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'Major reopening' of economy in March unlikely, says Taoiseach

Ireland may be moving towards a phased reopening of education.

Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

THE TAOISEACH DOES not forsee a “major reopening of the economy” on March 5, with the rate of the virus still needing to reach lower levels.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said today that a prolonged suppression of the virus would see primary schools reopened on a phased basis and construction reopening when cases drop below 1,000 a day.

However, he said that the hospitality sector could not reopen before an increased rollout of the vaccine programme, speaking on RTE Radio One’s This Week programme.

Similarly, Professor Philip Nolan said that Ireland is progressing towards a place where the phased reopening of education can be considered.

Professor Nolan, the head of Nphet’s epidemiological modelling advisory group, said he hopes that by March 5, the end date for the current phase of restrictions, the nation will be in “a much better place”.

He said Ireland could see a drop to 200-400 new cases of Covid-19 a day by the end of February.

“If we are cautious I think there are certain high priority, lower risk things that we can do in March, April, May that will allow some opening up without a significant increase in the transmission of the virus,” he said.

“I think we can say given the huge progress that we have made as a community in suppressing the virus, we’re now approaching a level of disease in the community where it would be safe to think about an appropriately phased, cautious reopening of education,” Professor Nolan said.

In terms of the vaccination programme, Martin said Ireland is down 300,000 doses it was expecting from AstraZeneca, but that it will pick up in May, June and July as increased supplies come in from Pfizer and Moderna and hopefully Johnson & Johnson.

Earlier the Taoiseach called for calm in the race to vaccinate populations.

He was speaking in the wake of a move by the European Union (EU) to use a post-Brexit mechanism to prevent the possible movement of vaccines from the EU into Northern Ireland.

The bloc later backtracked following outrage in London, Belfast and Dublin.

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Martin said there is a “strong sense across Europe” that AstraZeneca has not delivered on commitments around the vaccination.

“There’s a very fair point there which cannot be brushed aside, the problem is the commission took the wrong mechanism in invoking Article 16 of the Protocol to deal with it,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“What has gone wrong is clearly that the commitments made in terms of volume levels are not being realised in terms of the contractual engagement between the commission and AstraZeneca.

“The same type of tensions do not appear to have arisen in relation to the other companies.”

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