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Vaccine delays won't prevent 'modest' easing of restrictions on 5 April, says Tánaiste

Varadkar said the reopening of non-essential retail stores would be “further down the line”.

Image: Sam Boal/RN

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has said the delay in the vaccine rollout won’t prevent the government from easing restriction by 5 April as the country is making “good progress” in suppressing the virus. 

Varadkar indicated there would be some “modest” easing of restrictions, such as reopening construction, lifting the five-kilometre rule, and allowing more outdoor activities.

“We’re making very good progress in terms of suppressing the virus,” Varadkar told RTÉ Radio’s News at One.

“We said that the only kinds of restrictions that we could see being eased in April, would be construction, the five-kilometre rule and allowing more activities outdoors, and that remains the case, you know, even if the number of vaccines is slightly behind schedule. 

“So we’re very much going in the right direction. And I think that the delay in the vaccine deliveries won’t prevent us from easing restrictions on 5 April, but we only ever intended to do some very modest easing anyway.”

The reopening of non-essential retail stores would be further down the line, he said. 

Cabinet will meet before 5 April, most likely the week of 30 March, to discuss any easing of the restrictions.

Public health officials last night confirmed a further 311 new cases of Covid-19 and 30 additional deaths in Ireland. The number of people hospitalised with the disease in Ireland has fallen further since yesterday to 371, the lowest number of hospitalised cases in 2021. 

Ireland is currently struggling to meet its vaccine targets following a number of delivery issues. HSE boss Paul Reid told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health yesterday that the operating plan for administering vaccines in Ireland has changed 15-17 times so far due to constraints with supply and changes to sequencing and prioritisation.

Varadkar said he knows the delays are “very frustrating and undermines confidence, but we are making good progress too”. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed earlier that Ireland is to receive an additional 46,500 Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses in March under the EU procurement framework.

However, the country is expected to miss its Q1 target of 1.2 million doses due to supply shortfalls, with calls continuing for government to approach other countries to negotiate vaccine deals. 

A government spokesperson previously confirmed that Irish officials had been in touch with other EU countries, as well as pharmaceutical companies abroad and at home, about securing extra supplies.

Discussions were had with Germany, Latvia, Denmark as well as the UK on securing additional supplies, however, each country has said as of now there are no spare doses. 

“We have been in touch with other countries, but bear in mind, there aren’t any other countries that have a surplus at the moment,” Varadkar said, adding that by the time other countries have a surplus “we may have enough”. 

He said that officials are in direct contact with some of the manufacturers, “many of whom have a significant presence in Ireland and they’re doing all they can for us”.

He added that state aid is available should manufacturers want to adapt their plans to produce vaccines in Ireland.

The Taoiseach confirmed in the Dáil that the Irish government have been pursuing alternative supplies.  

“I have spoken to Pfizer and we have made it clear that anything we could do here to support or aid vaccine manufacturing capacity would be done. Pfizer, however, is satisfied that its planned configuration and capacity in Belgium and latterly in Germany in terms of BioNTech and in the United States are sufficient for it to meet its contractual needs,” he said.

“To be fair to Pfizer and BioNTech, they have met all their contractual commitments.  There has been some reprofiling, to use that term, of the delivery schedule in that numbers can go up one week and down another at the beginning, but since then they have been consistent in their supply,” he added.

“We have also approached the United Kingdom,” said Martin.

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“There is no magic tree out there that we can pick vaccines off. That is an illusion.  I spoke to the UK Prime Minister and we talked about vaccines. He volunteered to me that he would love to help Ireland but his first priority is to get his entire people vaccinated.

That is what he said. Yet, we have people jumping up and down saying we should ask Boris Johnson and he will give us his surplus. He does not have surplus vaccines to give to Ireland right now,” said the Taoiseach.

With reporting by Christina Finn

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Adam Daly

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