The Cabinet could meet earlier than expected next week to decide on a further easing of restrictions from 5 July.

It had been anticipated, but not confirmed, that ministers would take decisions on the issue next Thursday.

However, RTÉ News now understands that the meeting could take place earlier than planned.

It follows significant pressure from the hospitality sector who called for an early decision due to staffing and stocking implications.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland said it has called for the Cabinet committee on Covid-19 to meet on Monday.

RAI chief executive Adrian Cummins said there was "on going contact with the highest levels of Government over the weekend".

RTÉ News understands that NPHET will receive the data, on which it bases its recommendation to government, very early next week.

Ministers are prepared to meet once that recommendation has been completed.

It is also expected that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, or NIAC, will have advice for Cabinet on vaccine roll out early in the week.

The key areas of focus will be on whether the younger cohort can receive AstraZeneca and the Jansen vaccines - something they are currently not able to.

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It comes as the Department of Health reported 443 new cases of Covid-19.

There are 43 patients in hospital with the disease, 13 of those are being treated in ICU.

In Northern Ireland, 298 positive cases of Covid-19 and no deaths were reported in the past 24 hours. There have been 1,996,954 vaccines administered there in total.


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'Strict guidelines' required for indoor dining

Professor of Experimental Immunology Kingston Mills has said that indoor dining can reopen next week, but only with strict guidelines around who can go into pubs and restaurants.

Speaking on RTÉ's Brendan O'Connor show, Prof Mills said: "People in their 60s in Ireland who have had one dose of the AstraZenca vaccine are still vulnerable, so they can't go to a restaurant.

"And if they're going to be forced to get a second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, it's not just the over 60s there is also vulnerable people in the younger age groups and some people in the 50 to 60 age group."

But he claimed that the 40% of the adult population that are not in the vulnerable category and have had their first dose should be allowed to dine indoors.

Mr Mills said that "40% could fill a lot of restaurants".

He claimed that Ireland could learn from other countries that have already reopened the hospitality sector.

"There are very simple things that could be done to start with, of course the vaccination certificate is one of them.

"Israel certainly used it straight away once they vaccinated even a relatively small proportion of their population.

"They had a card that people presented at the restaurant and once they were fully vaccinated, they were allowed in.

"Israel is now virtually over the pandemic thanks to the early vaccination programme."

He said that younger workers in the service industry need to get their vaccine faster.

"I suppose the only issue is the staff that work in restaurants and pubs tend to be younger at least some of them, so they would be slightly at risk if they are not vaccinated.

"I did make the comment some time ago that people at high risk, and this would include people working in the hospitality industry, should have priority for vaccination and that was shot down by people in NIAC and the authorities because it was said that the older people were more vulnerable and that is absolutely correct."

At that stage the level of hospitalisations was high and the main priority was to reduce the number of deaths in the vulnerable groups, that is no longer the case, he claimed.

Prof Mills said: "Right now the issue is not around hospitalisation, it's around transmission in the younger population.

Decision on surplus vaccines should be made 'quickly'

Minister of State for Sport and the Gaeltacht Jack Chambers has said a decision should be made quickly on whether surplus vaccines can be administered to young people.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Justin McCarthy, the Fianna Fáil TD and Government Chief Whip said the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) does not have time to waste.

Mr Chambers said: "We are in a race against the Delta variant and we will be in a position where the Janssen and AstraZeneca vaccine will be in surplus supply because of the current age restrictions.

"Those vaccines are licenced for use for people over 18 by the European Medicines Agency, so we need to get updated guidance from NIAC on whether that position will change.

"We will need to have it shortly.

"The CMO is seeking updated guidance from NIAC on that and I think that's the sensible and practical thing to do.

He said: "I think if it is possible to use any surplus vaccines to get that quicker so we can keep our reopening moving that's the right thing to do.

He added that he believes the vaccine rollout is progressing well.

Mr Chambers said: "I think what we have is a very clear and transparent vaccine rollout that I think is working really well and the feedback across the public has been extremely positive.

"We've now people in their 30s registering and getting their vaccine.

"If we have surplus vaccine, we will be able sequence through the age groups quicker."

Amid the disruption caused by the cyber attack on the HSE's system, the number of cases may change due to future data validation.