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The minister says it is time to respect people, saying the public know how to do things safely now.
outdoor activitiies

Harris says there may be 'potential to do a bit more' easing of restrictions than has already been flagged for May

The minister mentioned the potential of doing more activities outside could be considered.

LAST UPDATE | 19 Apr 2021

THERE MAY BE “the potential for more” easing of restrictions in May than what has already been indicated, according to Higher Education Minister Simon Harris.

Details of what May, June and July will look like should be provided by Cabinet next week, according to Harris. 

Speaking to reporters today, he said the full opening of construction, retail, and personal services are likely to take place in May. 

Harris said it may be possible to “go further” with some outdoor activities if numbers stay they as they are.

“I think there might be the potential to do a bit more in May,” he said. On “things like outdoor dining and the likes”, he said: 

I’m not in a position to give a definitive view, but I think we need to start answering those questions next week.

Cabinet will meet next week to discuss easing restrictions in May and discuss the reopening of businesses in the summer. 

The minister said today that the government needs to provide a roadmap beyond May, and provide “as much detail as possible” as businesses “just want an indication of when they might be able to reopen”.

100 million Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses to the EU

It comes as AstraZeneca’s country president for Ireland wrote to the Oireachtas Health Committee about the schedule for its Covid-19 vaccine deliveries for the rest of the year.

Daniel Wygal wrote that AstraZeneca expects to deliver 100 million doses to the European Union in the first half of 2021, with 29.8 million delivered in the first three months of the year.

AstraZeneca had been reportedly due to deliver around 120 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine developed with Oxford in the first quarter of the year – what was actually delivered was less than a quarter of that number. 

Relations between the EU and the Anglo-Swedish company have deteriorated since, with arguments ensuing over what commitments were made by AstraZeneca in its contract with the EU.

“Despite working tirelessly to accelerate supply,” Wygal wrote to the Committee, “AstraZeneca were disappointed to announce a shortfall in planned Covid-19 vaccine shipments to the European Union on 12 March 2021.

“We had previously communicated that we were facing shortfalls from our European supply chain due to lower-than-expected output from the production process. We had sought to compensate for part of this shortfall by sourcing vaccines from its international supply network, but have been met with export restrictions in this regard.”

Outdoor activities 

While the Higher Education Minister said he did not want to speculate about what the imminent announcements could mean for each sector, Harris said there is evidence that things like outdoor activities can be done safely. 

There is hope “we could do a little bit more in the outdoor space” area, he said. 

Mentioning his own constituency of Wicklow, he said this weekend people were out and about enjoying themselves outdoors, in a safe way. 

Harris said a lot has been learned about the virus over the last year, and people are acting responsibly.

He added that we now have to “treat people with respect”.

The public know a lot more about the virus and how to do things safely than some people acknowledge, said Harris. 

Speaking about the guidance that one household can meet another outdoors, Harris said it might be possible to “do a bit more” in that area next month.

The minister also said that golf and tennis will restart at the end of this month, and perhaps there are other outdoor activities that could be looked at also. 

Certainty needed

The onus is on government now to give as much certainty as possible next week, he added. 

He will be able to go to the Cabinet meeting next week with the country in a better position than it has been in many, many months, he said. 

Highlighting the numbers, he said yesterday saw the lowest case numbers in a long time, and the positivity rate is staying at the stable 2% mark. 

Hospital numbers and those in ICU are also falling. Harris said he feels more “hopeful and positive” than he has done for a very long time. 

Last summer, the public were able to enjoy staycations around the country, with the minister saying today that he could say with a reasonable degree of confidence that could be achieved again. 

He said the vaccines are giving more protection than “anyone could have hoped for”, but government must be careful also not to fall at the final hurdle. 

Speaking on the Today with Claire Byrne programme on RTÉ, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said more than 70,000 people left unemployed because of Covid-19 will be back working by the end of the year.

Getting people back to work

Paschal Donohoe said that getting people back into jobs will be a “huge driver” of tax revenue increases.

More than 400,000 people are currently claiming the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (Pup).

Donohoe said economic forecasts show that around 220,000 people could be back working next year, meaning it could be 2023 before Ireland returns to pre-pandemic employment levels.

The finance minister also said he expects a recommendation by the end of the week on whether the Government will decide to extend the interval between the first and second doses of the coronavirus vaccines.

The Government is awaiting advice on extending the interval from four weeks to some 12 weeks.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is currently examining the merits of changing the current vaccination programme to help speed up the rollout.

“Effective vaccinations is the key thing within our country, we’re on track to do that,” Donohoe said.

“Our vaccination strategy is working. We vaccinated 140,000 of our citizens last week, it’ll be 170,000 at least this week.

With reporting by Press Association and Gráinne Ní Aodha

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