Ireland will not consider re-opening its hospitality sector before mid-summer due to the high level of Covid-19 infections in the country, Prime Minister Micheál Martin said on Saturday.
“While I am happy that we are making progress with the vaccination programme, any easing of the restrictions has to be slow and cautious because of the threat from new variants of the disease,” Martin said.
“These variants are our biggest concern for managing the disease in the immediate future,” he added.
He said the current Level 5 restrictions were being prolonged “with a view to crushing the numbers of those contracting the disease”.
Bars, restaurants, cafes and hotels have been closed in Ireland for much of the past 12 months, with the latest national lockdown in place since late December.
The country has the 16th highest rate of COVID-19 infections of the 30 countries monitored by the European Centre for Disease Control.
It reported 250 cases per 100,000 people in the 14 days to Friday, less than one fifth of its mid-January peak, official data showed. But the government has said it must be cautious about reopening as around 90% of cases are of a more transmissible strain of the virus first discovered in Britain.
“No consideration will be given to opening hospitality until mid-summer … the numbers of the virus are far too high,” Martin said in an Irish language interview with state broadcaster RTE.
“Any easing of the restrictions has to be slow and cautious because of the threat from new variants of the disease,” he said.
Ireland on Friday also said it had registered its first cases of another Covid-19 variant first discovered in Brazil, but said the cluster had been contained.
The country has registered 4,135 deaths related to the virus, almost half of them since the start of January.
With the highest population in Ireland, case numbers are still rampant in Dublin.