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TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has told the nation in his address that “we are in the last stretch” of the pandemic. 

Cabinet has signed off on some easing of Covid restrictions, with the Taoiseach laying out a cautious approach to reopening. 

From 12 April:

  • The 5km travel limit is lifted and you can travel within your county.
  • Two households are allowed to meet outdoors to socialise, as opposed to only for exercise, as is currently the case.
  • Those involved in construction of houses and childcare facilities can also return.

Stick with us throughout the evening as we bring you all the latest updates.

Sin é from us this evening folks, thanks for joining us. 

For your consideration:

Over 200,000 people have so far received two vaccine doses. It takes a couple of weeks after receiving the second vaccine dose before a person is fully protected. 

Advice for fully vaccinated people has been issued in other countries, such as the US, but no such advice was issued in Ireland before now. 

The government guidance said full protection is not in place for vaccinated people until it has been at least two weeks since they received a second vaccine dose. 

“If a second dose is still awaited, enhanced protected measures should continue to be applied,” a government statement on the new measures said. 

The deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said this evening that it’s hoped this guidance will “provide some additional relief” to fully vaccinated people. 

If you’re just joining us, the party leaders are holding a press conference following the announcement of the plan to ease restrictions. 

Among those plans are new guidance that people who are fully vaccinated are now able to meet with other fully vaccinated people without masks and physical distancing.

The Cabinet this afternoon signed off on measures to ease certain Covid-19 restrictions on a phased basis next month. 

Among these is a decision to allow fully vaccinated people from two different households to meet indoors. This measure takes effect immediately, the government said.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn starts by saying that we have “three very safe and effective vaccines” in Ireland now with a fourth, Johnson & Johnson, due to be rolled out in late April. 

“By July, most adults will have received a first dose.”

“But we’re not there yet” he says, warning that cases may be rising and that hospital numbers are still high. 

“Unfortunately this means we are susceptible to a fourth wave,” says Dr Glynn, but that NPHET modelling shows that vaccinations will make a “huge” difference. 

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is speaking now. 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar is speaking now at a press conference following the Taoiseach’s address.

“If things go well…we can consider hospitality in June.”

Screenshot 2021-03-30 18.44.14 - Display 2

The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI), meanwhile, has said “the continued absence of a coherent roadmap to guide the pub sector towards reopening is causing huge distress to publicans, their families and staff. The VFI has described today’s announcement by Government about the planned easing of restrictions as a ‘missed opportunity’ as it should have contained clear details of how pubs can reopen.”

Padraig Cribben, VFI Chief Executive, says: “The pub sector is not calling for a reopening date but we urgently require an understanding of how we get to reopen. Right now, our members exits in an information vacuum that is causing severe distress.

“Countries like Denmark and England have clear timelines for reopening different sectors of society. We need a plan that links the vaccine roll out to reopening. We’re heading into April with no clear idea about how the hospitality sector will get back on its feet.

“Today’s announcement was a missed opportunity as far as the pub sector is concerned. It’s very worrying for our members who badly need a some message of hope for the future” said Cribben.

We’re getting some reaction now from a number of sectors to the Taoiseach’s speech.

Retail Excellence Ireland has said it is “deeply shocked and disappointed” that a decision on the return of click-and-collect services has been deferred until May. 

Duncan Graham, Managing Director of Retail Excellence said: “We are deeply shocked and disappointed at the Government’s decision this evening, which will have a profoundly negative effect on the retail industry. Click and collect is a lifeline for businesses, especially small independent traders, and this move will now seriously threaten the viability of hundreds of retailers around the country who were desperate for assistance and a definitive timeline from the Government.”

If you’re just joining us, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has addressed the nation laying out a cautious approach to lockdown easing while striking an optimistic tone as vaccines are rolled out. 

In the next few moments we’ll be hearing from the party leaders, stay tuned. 

July and August will see “intensive” ramp up in vaccinations, the Taoiseach says. 

“Less than two weeks from now, all of our children will be back at school. In four weeks. many of our outdoor sporting facilities will be opened again. In over seven weeks, everyone over 70 will have been fully vaccinated. We are on the final stretch of this terrible journey.”

“This summer, our businesses and our public services will safely reopen. We will finally be meeting, and enjoying the company of friends and family, once again, we will be able to travel within and enjoy our beautiful country.

“Again, jobs and livelihoods will be restored, and most importantly, the worst of this awful pandemic will be behind us, steadily and safely. Let’s get through this final phase together. Thank you very much indeed.”

“Vaccines were always something that we were looking forward to – that is no longer the case,” the Taoiseach said – noting that in past speeches he had always had to refer to the way out of the pandemic in the future tense. 

That had changed now, he insisted.

It is increasingly clear from evidence around the world that the vaccines have a huge beneficial effect, Martin said.

“The public health advice is clear,” he said – the vaccines will have a major effect on mortality and serious cases of Covid-19 once older groups and the most vulnerable are vaccinated, he added.

The Taoiseach confirms that as the vaccine rollout ramps up further easing will be examined in late April when Government will look at a phased reopening of non-essential retail, personal services and non-contact sport training, religious services, museums and galleries and libraries. 

“From the 12th of April, two households will be able to meet outdoors for social and recreational purposes.

“We can also plan for a phased return of the construction industry from the 12th of April, those involved in the construction of housing and childcare facilities may return to work.

“This will involve around 14,000 workers, and we believe it is absolutely necessary, In terms of dealing with the housing crisis, and improving the country’s childcare sector.”

“Two people who have been fully vaccinated can meet again indoors and outdoors, allowing our older citizens who have had a particularly difficult year to reconnect, the Taoiseach confirms. 

The Taoiseach is addressing the nation now. 

Micheál Martin says we need to “move forward safely” and confirms that the 5km limit will be extended from 12 April.

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The HSE has confirmed that Croke Park will be used as a community vaccination centre, with ten booths. It will open in May. 

This centre and the one at The Helix at DCU – with 48 booths – will have capacity to run from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week. 

Our reporter is awaiting the arrival of the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister Eamon Ryan.

And the sun is still shining: 

We’ll have an address from the Taoiseach in less than an hour – here’s what we’re expecting he’ll announce:

  • From 12 April the 5km rule will be eased, new guidance will be stay in your county or within 20km of your home.
  • In a shake-up of the priority list, vaccinations will be given on the basis of age once over 70s and the vulnerable get their jabs.
  • New advice will state two fully vaccinated people can meet indoors (from 12 April).
  • Numbers allowed at funerals will increase to 25. 
  • Home construction will be able to resume from 12 April.
  • Outdoor sports like tennis and golf, non-contact training for under 18s will be permitted from 26 April.
  • Heritage sites and State attractions will re-open on this date. 
  • Most retail and personal services will also have to wait at least until May to return.

The easing of the 5km rule will mean people can travel up to 20km from their homes, even if this means leaving their county. 

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has confirmed 14 deaths of patients with Covid-19 and 368 new cases of the disease in Ireland.

Twelve of the death occurred in March, one was in February and one was in January. 

Cabinet has concluded its meeting now, and has signed off on a number of measures to ease restrictions over the next month. 

The Taoiseach’s address to the nation with the full details is expected at around 6pm.

If you’re looking for some potentially positive news, the positivity rate from today’s swabs is 2.61%.

As the Tánaiste points out, it’s possible that the new walk-in testing centres, which are for people who are asymptomatic, could have skewed this rate. And this is just one day.

But the total positive swabs for today are also down compared to those from the last week, so if we continued in this way we’d be heading in the right direction.

The mooted change for vaccine prioritisation has not been welcomed by Sinn Féin’s education spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.

He’s said: “How can the Government say with a straight face that keeping schools open is a priority when they have REMOVED any prioritisation for school staff?!? Keeping schools open safely has been v challenging for staff. This is their thanks. Dreadful.”

Important to stress that this hasn’t been formally announced yet. But, if that were to be the case, it may provoke anger among those working in education and other occupations that were deemed to be higher up the priority list for vaccination.

Not only have restrictions begun to significantly ease in Britain, they’re also enjoying the warmest March day in 53 years today. 

The mercury hit 24.2 degrees in central London today. 

It’s not too bad across the island of Ireland today either to be fair. 

But wintry showers – yes, wintry showers in April – will replace the sunny, warm weather soon according to Met Éireann.

This would be a fairly big development. 

Cabinet is discussing an overhaul of the vaccination programme. 

When over-70s, those with underlying health conditions and the vulnerable groups are inoculated, vaccinations will be given on the basis of age.

This would scrap the existing 15-tier allocation process, which you can find here

This would “ensure vaccines get out as quickly as possible”, according to sources.

who-covid-19-death-toll-update WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Moving away from these shores for the moment, the head of the World Health Organization has said that his team had difficult accessing raw data during their mission to China to try to discover the origins of the virus. 

“I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesusa said in a briefing to WHO member states today. 

He also called today for investigators to delve deeper into a theory about a possible lab incident, which they all but ruled out.

“Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy,” the WHO chief said.

The Department of Social Protection has issued its weekly update on the pandemic unemployment payment. 

Over 443,000 will receive a PUP this week, a decrease of 6,200 on the week before. 

A total of €132.25 million will be paid out through the PUP. 

In a statement, Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys reiterates the “light at the end of the tunnel” and “brighter days are ahead” rhetoric we’ve been hearing.

She said: “I know people are weary and frustrated with the ongoing restrictions. But we must realise that our vaccine rollout is ramping up and we expect one million vaccines per month to arrive in April, May and June… now is not the time to let our guard down.”

We now have a better idea of timings for later on. 

It looks like Micheál Martin will make his address to the nation at roughly 6pm. 

He, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister Eamon Ryan will then lead a press conference after this address where they will take questions from the media.

PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne has said he will not be resigning despite calls from DUP Arlene Foster to do so. 

Even with the major announcement expected from the Taoiseach this evening, you can expect to hear plenty about these latest Covid-related development in Northern Ireland over the coming days and weeks.

Cabinet is still meeting at present, but here’s a brief rundown of what we know on what’s being discussed so far:

  • The 5km rule may be scrapped from 12 April
  • Two fully vaccinated people may be able to meet up indoors from 12 April
  • Outdoor sports, like tennis and golf, and non-contact training for under 18s looks like it could be permitted from 26 April
  • The phased re-opening of retail, construction and personal services such as hairdressers looks set to be delayed until May at the earliest
  • NPHET has recommended to the Minister for Health that mandatory quarantine to be expanded to include the US, Germany and others – a decision on this may not happen today

More from our political correspondent Christina Finn now. 

Sources have said the phased re-opening of retail, the rest of construction and personal services like hairdressers won’t happen until May. 

Click and collect for retailers looks like it won’t be returning until May at the earliest, also. 

I’m also with Christina on this: “I’m hearing a lot about ‘saving summer’. Another one of those phrases we will want to ban in the future.”

Those “consequences” that Arlene Foster was talking about?

It appears they involve asking the chief constable of the PSNI to resign

“The position of the Chief Constable is now untenable and I am calling on him to resign,” she said. “Sadly, it is now clear confidence cannot be rebuilt with him in post.”

It’s understood Cabinet is considering proposals to allow two fully-vaccinated people to meet up indoors from 12 April.

So far, just over 200,000 people have received two vaccine doses. It takes a couple of weeks after receiving the second dose until you’re fully protected. 

Up North, meanwhile, there will be no charges brought against Sinn Féin politicians over their attendance at the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey

The PPS concluded that it could not prove to the required standard that there were breaches of the Covid-19 regulations. 

This may not be the end of that story, however, as the DUP leader Arlene Foster has this afternoon warned of “consequences”. 

She said: “I feel sorry for everyone who stuck by the rules. Devastating outcome for public confidence in policing. There will be consequences. I will be holding a press conference at 1530.”

Elsewhere on Liveline, I was today years old when I discovered that the singing bird in the carbon monoxide advert is meant to be the canary in the coal mine.

People are very angry about the advert.

Personally, I preferred the old jingle to the new “monthly chores” ad.

While Cabinet meets to discuss easing restrictions, RTÉ’s Liveline is focused this afternoon on the Beacon Hospital vaccination scandal.

Vaccination operations at the Beacon Hospital have been suspended after it emerged that the hospital gave jabs to teachers at St Gerard’s private school.

Presenter Joe Duffy read out a letter from a teacher at the school who expressed their anger that colleagues had jumped the queue to get a vaccine.

They pointed out that just 20 of the 100 members of staff received a jab, but all had been under suspicion since the news broke.  

“We should not have to carry the can for them,” the teacher said. “I do not accept these vaccines were going to waste, etc, and I can swear I would not have taken the vaccine had I been offered it.

“I am fit and healthy and am frustrated that my own elderly relatives have not yet been vaccinated.”

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has told reporters that holding firm for a bit longer will open up the possibility of having a more exciting conversation about the summer. He acknowledged that people need to see a way out at this stage:

The number of people allowed to attend a funeral is expected to be increased from ten to 25: 

At the start of the year public health officials and the government had expressed concern about significant numbers of people gathering at the homes of the bereaved or at churches before and after services. They have been encouraging people to express their condolences in different ways such as on social media, websites, with text messages or cards.

Minister Michael McGrath has told reporters the government wants to make sure we make it through April “in decent shape”. 

On hospitality and hairdressers, he said later on this evening they should know what is possible in terms of reopening and when.

Christina Finn is hearing more as Cabinet gets underway. 

It looks like the 5km limit won’t be eased until 12 April.

Meanwhile, outdoor sports, like tennis and golf, and non-contact training for under 18s will be permitted from 26 April. 

On a side note, the restrictions continue to affect people in a wide variety of ways. 

In this piece here by Aoife Barry, she speaks to parents looking for clarity on buying children’s shoes.

One parent said: “You can buy Easter eggs and cuddly toys for Easter but you can’t buy shoes for your children.”

Lobby groups have already issued statements prior to the government’s announcement later. 

The Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) said the government has a responsibility to announce a pathway facilitating the eventual reopening of the hospitality sector, saying they are completely in the dark about when or how the sector might be in a position to reopen. 

Its CEO Donall O’Keeffe said: “As we move into the second quarter of the year, surely it is time that the Government started sharing their broad plans with the rest of the country. We need hope. Hope is the glue that binds the current social contract and it needs to be tended to.”

Meanwhile, Adrian Cummins from the Restaurants Association of Ireland has tweeted in the last few minutes: “Government must give confidence to the hospitality sector that there is a date specific plan to reopen all businesses in a viable format, give confidence to workers they can return to their jobs & give confidence to the consumers it is safe to return when Public Health allows.”

We’ve more on that here, as the US and EU countries such as France, Germany, and Italy have been recommended for inclusion in Ireland’s mandatory hotel quarantine list in advice given to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly by NPHET.

More than 40 additional countries may be added to the list – more than doubling its size. 

A final decision on the new countries’ inclusion has not yet been made but one is expected later in the week. 

“Any addition to the list of category 2 countries requires consultation with the Minister for Foreign Affairs by the Minister for Health,” a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said this afternoon. 

“That has not happened to date.”

The likelihood of mandatory quarantine being extended to other countries such as the US is being mooted today.

Our political correspondent Christina Finn is reporting that nothing has been decided in this regard yet, but advice has been sent to the health minister on adding additional countries. 

So, just a reminder of when we can expect things to happen today.

Cabinet is meeting this afternoon to finalise the plans for easing restrictions going forward, after considering NPHET’s recommendations.

That is expected to go on some time, with decisions expected in terms of the 5km limit, construction, additional countries for mandatory quarantine and other matters. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is then expected to address the nation at around 6pm. 

All of these addresses to the nation. I think I’ve lost count at this stage. 

Including Leo Varadkar’s tenure as Taoiseach, how many times do you think we’ve had a live, televised address to the nation from the Taoiseach about Covid-19 since last March? 

Poll Results:

More than 8 (578)
5 (306)
7 (300)

A timely Ipsos MRBI publication came this morning in the form of its Veracity Index 2021. 

People were given a list of different types of people and asked if they generally trust them to tell the truth or not. 

87% of people said they trust NPHET to tell them the truth. 

Only 31% of people said they trust government ministers to tell the truth – this fell to 24% for politicians generally. 

Those surveyed also trusted the ordinary person on the street (58%), more than journalists (45%), bankers (34%) and estate agents (29%). 

covid dash

Elsewhere today, so far, the latest HSE update on the vaccination programme came in earlier.

We’ve now moved passed 800,000 vaccine doses administered in Ireland. 

At close of play Saturday, 576,612 people had received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Of these, 224,141 have received a second dose. 

Over 200,000 people over the age of 70 have received their first dose so far. 

The government is pinning its hopes on the expected ramp up of supply in the coming months as case numbers remain at a very high level despite the ongoing Level 5 restrictions. 

We’ve heard very little on-the-record from government ministers as of yet. 

But where’s what Green Party leader Eamon Ryan had to say last night after leaving the Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19.

“So April, May, June, take it one step at a time; it won’t be the full detail or anything, it’s crucial we get the next few weeks right and be on the path towards bringing back normality, and that’s in prospect now,” he said.

“First things first – we have to get April right.”

He said of the decision-making process: “Cautious, and listening to health advice – that will be the guiding star”.

Good afternoon, everyone. 

Sean Murray here and I’ll be with you for the next while. 

So, what can we expect in terms of restrictions easing next week? 

As my colleagues Christina Finn and Adam Daly reported this morning, the answer to that is… not a lot. 

“It is understood that expectations may need to be lowered in terms of the restrictions being eased – changes due to be announced for April are likely to be limited, though an easing of the 5km rule is anticipated to be announced.

“It’s understood that there is the worry of a further wave of Covid-19 infections if too many changes are announced at once. How the changes announced in April affect Covid-19 figures in the following weeks is likely to determine how quickly other mooted changes are rolled out in the months after.

“It is understood that the government will consider allowing more households to meet outside – with sources stating that they are acutely aware of people’s mental health at this point, and some acknowledging that such meetups are already happening.

“Reopening the construction sector is also anticipated to be announced today.”

About the author:

Sean Murray


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