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Taoiseach hopes for 'a degree of normality' by summer 2021

Micheál Martin said the vaccine roll-out offers hope but that nothing is certain.

Martin in the Government Press Centre.
Martin in the Government Press Centre.
Image: ULIEN BEHAL PHOTOGRAPHY.

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said the government will have “greater freedom and options” when the first tranche of people are vaccinated but that it could be the summer before there is “a degree of normality returning”. 

Martin has outlined the government’s hopes for how the vaccine roll-out will take place over the course of the next six months, cautioning that it could be May or June before mass vaccinations take place. 

Some 10,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are expected to be delivered to Ireland over the Christmas period with the first vaccines to be administered here on 30 December

As part of the sequencing plans, adults over 65 who are residents of long-term care facilities and frontline healthcare workers are first in line. 

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said it is hoped that residents of nursing homes will have received their two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine by “some time in February”

This prospect has raised the question over whether the government could begin to unwind restrictions when the most vulnerable people are inoculated. 

Speaking to journalists, Martin said this would give the government some options.

“The volumes coming through in January and February are relatively low in terms of what would come subsequently, but that’s where we’ll be dealing with nursing home residents and healthcare workers and key workers, that will make a significant difference in itself,” Martin said.

If we can immunise and can protect those most vulnerable, that already begins to give us a greater freedom in terms of policy options and decisions we take. 

He added that the restrictions are “continually reviewed” and that the current set of restrictions will be reviewed on 12 January. 

The Taoiseach cautioned however that the vaccine roll-out will not mean a return to normality in the first six months of 2021. 

“It depends on how we define the new normal. I think the first six months of 2021 will see improvements but we certainly won’t have normality in the first six months as we knew it.

The manufacturing of vaccines will ramp up certainly from March onwards and President von der Leyen would have identified May-June as critical months in terms of high volumes of vaccines coming in. So I think from the summer on I think we’ll see a degree of normality returning. But I can’t be definite about that.

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Complacency 

Martin said that any return to normality would be “tentative” and he cautioned that recent events in the UK related to the new variant can demonstrate that the situation can change unexpectedly.  

He also said some other vaccines could be delivered faster than expected: 

Moderna is coming faster now, and AstraZeneca will be here in January as well. So by the end of January we will have three vaccines. So what I’m saying here is conservative, I could also see a scenario in which manufacturing ramps up more quickly and where higher volumes of vaccines gets to member states more quickly and that’s the more hopeful scenario. 

He also cautioned that the vaccine roll-out could lead to people becoming complacent about other public health guidelines. 

“There is some concern on the public health side that the more we talk about vaccines the less guarded people seem to become in terms of their personal behaviour.”

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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