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Dublin: 12°C Tuesday 22 June 2021

'Lots to be positive about': Ireland ‘on track’ to ease restrictions on 4 May, says Varadkar

Micheál Martin said that the vaccine programme is also “on track” in the wake of today’s Pfizer boost.

The two party leaders moved to reassure people that the plan to reopen the country remains unchanged. (File image).
The two party leaders moved to reassure people that the plan to reopen the country remains unchanged. (File image).
Image: RollingNews.ie

BOTH THE TAOISEACH and Tánaiste have given assurances to the public this evening that the plan for reopening society is “on track”. 

Leo Varadkar said in a Twitter video this evening: “We’re on track as well to ease restrictions on the 4th of May so lots of things to be positive about”.

“We’re still very much on track to meet our targets between 3.5 million and 4.5 million vaccines being administered in the second quarter of this year,” he said.

Micheál Martin told RTÉ News that the vaccine programme is also “on track” following today’s announcement from Pfizer about the delivery of more doses of the vaccine.

While he said there would be “bumps along the way” the vaccine programme is “agile and responsive”.

The government is still assessing the lay of the land after significant announcements this week relating to AstraZeneca and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine concerns. 

However, there was relief today when the Taoiseach got word during today’s Cabinet meeting that Ireland will receive over 500,000 additional doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine over the next three months as part of a wider EU agreement. 

Martin said the announcement from Pfizer is a significant boost as it brings the vaccines scheduled for quarter four into quarter two. 

“We will make good progress in quarter two in terms of the vaccination programme,” he said.

The Taoiseach said with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine temporarily paused, it remained to be seen if that vaccine could come back into the vaccination programme.

It was confirmed yesterday that Johnson & Johnson is to “proactively delay” the rollout of its Covid-19 vaccine to Europe as US health agencies recommended a precautionary pause in the use of the jab following blood clot concerns.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has said it will make a recommendation on the safety of Johnson & Johnson next week. Ireland had been due over 600,000 doses of the one-shot vaccine in total up to the end of June.

Varadkar said it was important to keep the eye on the “bigger picture”, stating that the number of people in hospital with Covid is now less than 200 for the first time this year and the R-number is below one.

Speaking about the vaccine programme, Martin said “we are close” to completing the vaccination of the over-70s and noted the booking portal for over-65s will open tomorrow morning.

Irish health authorities are only recommending the AstraZeneca vaccine for those aged 60 to 69 in the wake of concerns over very rare blood clots.

“April has been challenging due to the cancellation of AstraZeneca vaccines this week. I really feel sorry for those with underlying conditions who had their scheduled vaccine postponed,” Martin said.

The Taoiseach also the decision on whether to space out the Pfizer vaccines over a longer period would be decided over the coming week.

As of now, those in government are positive that issues around vaccines will not slow down the reopening of the country.

Sources said all eyes will be on the UK, and how its reopening goes, after outdoor dining was allowed again this week. Indoor gyms, swimming pools, nail salons and zoos also welcomed customers back.

Attention will also be paid to the possible rise in Irish case numbers in two weeks’ time following the full return of schools this week. A close eye will also be kept on the numbers in hospital and ICU.

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Under the government’s reopening plan, outdoor sports and visitor attractions will resume from 26 April.

Golf courses and tennis courts will reopen, as will zoos and wildlife parks.

In May the phased re-opening of non-essential retail and personal services such as hairdressers is expected. 

Also to be discussed before the end of the month are all non-contact sports training, religious services, museums, the reopening of galleries and libraries, and additional freedoms for those who are fully vaccinated.

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