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Leo Varadkar: Case for months of 'sustainable' Covid-19 restrictions while vulnerable are vaccinated

Varadkar also indicated that Level 5 will last beyond 12 January.

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has suggested that the arrival of the first deliveries of the Covid-19 vaccine could present a case for longer restrictions while it is given to those most at-risk of contracting the virus.

He also indicated that new Covid-19 restrictions introduced in the last week will be in place beyond mid-January.

The Government announced last week that it was re-introducing Level 5 restrictions in response to rapidly increasing case numbers, with a review of those restrictions to take place on 12 January.

However, Varadkar told RTÉ Radio 1′s Morning Ireland that he believed the new guidelines would likely be in place longer than that. 

He warned that with fresh restrictions only introduced in recent days, and with the ban on household visits not due to start until Friday, it was probable that case numbers would not reduce until the middle of next month.

Asked specifically whether he thought the new restrictions could be scaled back by the time they are reviewed by the Government, the Tánaiste said he did not.

“Given that the restrictions are only coming in now, I don’t think we would start to see numbers fall until the first or second week in January, therefore they would not have fallen enough by 12 January,” he said.

The Tánaiste defended the government’s timing of the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine, the first doses of which arrived into Ireland on Saturday, following criticism that patients began to be vaccinated immediately in other countries.

He said the government was taking its time in rolling out the vaccine to ensure correct training and education procedures were in place, as well as issues such as consent and public information about the vaccine.

Varadkar also claimed that the availability of the vaccine changed the situation in Ireland because it was known when those most at risk of the virus would be inoculated against Covid-19.

He suggested that “sustainable” restrictions could be in place for a number of months, rather than lifting and re-introducing new restrictions every few weeks as cases rose and fell.

“There will be a case of saying to the Irish people, you know, perhaps we should keep these restrictions in place until such a time as we have protected our healthcare workers and our most vulnerable,” he said.

“But again, that speaks to a separate issue that if restrictions are going to be in place for a prolonged period, not a few weeks but maybe a few months, they need to be ones that are sustainable.”

He said that the target for lifting restrictions would be falling case numbers and an R number below one, as well as hospitals not being under pressure.

Varadkar added that the government would not reconsider the re-opening of schools next week unless it was given specific advice by the National Public Health Emergency Team to do so.

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