Taoiseach says vaccine programme could be ‘substantially complete’ by autumn 2021

Government is considering extending and expanding Covid-19 supports for businesses

Taoiseach Micheál Martin: he  said there would be three vaccines available here by the end of January – from Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca –  and he expected the rollout to gather momentum from March. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire

Taoiseach Micheál Martin: he said there would be three vaccines available here by the end of January – from Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca – and he expected the rollout to gather momentum from March. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire

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Ireland’s Covid-19 vaccine programme could be “substantially” completed by next autumn, allowing the economy to begin returning to a normalised state, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has told The Irish Times.

Speaking to Inside Business, a podcast from The Irish Times, Mr Martin also said the Government was looking at extending and possibly expanding a number of financial supports to businesses and individuals impacted by the latest Covid-19 restrictions in a bid to help them survive the next lockdown.

And he believes a Brexit deal will be concluded by the year-end.

Mr Martin said there would be three vaccines available here by the end of January – from Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca – and he expects the rollout to gather momentum from March onwards.

The first vaccines are expected to be administered on December 30th.

“Certainly by late autumn I would like to see a substantial part of the population ... according to the European Commission, there shouldn’t be a difficulty in supply by the end of the autumn,” he said.

With regard to extending financial supports to businesses, Mr Martin said: “We could still have a substantial degree of Covid in the community by the end of March, so we will continue to roll on EWSS, and also the Minister for Finance is looking at the CRSS scheme in terms of its application to hotels because we have to take into account the fact that through December they couldn’t realise too much of the potential of the reopening because we had restrictions on intercounty travel and household restrictions.”

Representatives for the hospitality sector have called on the Government to increase the Covid-19 Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) payment to help businesses survive the early part of next year.

CRSS was introduced in the budget and offers a payment to businesses impacted by lockdown restrictions. The credit is equal to 10 per cent of the average weekly turnover in 2019 up to €20,000, plus 5 per cent on turnover over €20,000.

The Employee Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) provides a flat-rate subsidy to qualifying employers, and is due to expire on March 31st.

“We will take on those issues that hotels have raised with us. We will also look at providing restart grants again when the time comes. We’re going to have to engineer a reboot of the hospitality sector because it has taken an enormous hit.”

Economy

In terms of when the economy might return to pre-pandemic levels of activity, Mr Martin said it could be “well into 2022” for sectors such as aviation and tourism to begin to recover, and that it could be January 2023 before we are back to pre-Covid employment levels.

He expects the total costs of Covid to the exchequer to hit about €40 billion, and didn’t rule out tax increases to pay the bill.

“We have to assess the prioritisation in terms of expenditure and any revenue-generating measures that we might have to pursue. But we don’t intend any sudden, sharp jolts to the economy.”

On Brexit, Mr Martin said it would “incomprehensible that a deal wouldn’t be done given the enormous impact on people”.

“On balance, I think there will be a deal done [by the year end] but I can’t be certain.”