New restrictions on the use of AstraZeneca doses could slow the State's vaccine rollout just when it was supposed to be accelerating, Government Ministers fear.
The impact will depend on the level of restrictions expected to be recommended* by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) on Monday, according to informed sources.
The advisory body is thought likely to recommend some form of restriction on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) last week warned that extremely rare blood clots were a side-effect of the drug that patients should be warned about.
Changes to restrictions today
- People can travel within their county, or 20km from home
- Households can meet with one other household outdoors, but not in gardens
- Construction sites reopen for residential and childcare facility projects
- First- to fourth-year secondary students return to in-class teaching
Several EU countries have limited its use to only older people –as the clots have affected younger people – while the UK has confined it to those aged over 30.
The first option, if followed by Niac, would cause significant disruption to Ireland’s vaccine programme, as AstraZeneca is intended to be used to vaccinate many under-65s.
Officials are waiting anxiously for the advice as the country on Monday sees the most substantial reopening yet after the third and longest lockdown of the pandemic.
Monday is the first day since December that all children will be back at school, while the 5km limit also ends on Monday, with people allowed to travel within their own county, or within 20km of their own home.
Construction on homebuilding, early learning and childcare projects is also allowed to restart on Monday, while people will be allowed to meet with one other household, though not in their gardens.
Commenting on the easing of some restrictions, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said there were “many reasons for hope as we head into a new week”.
Meanwhile, guidance for pregnant women on the risk posed by Covid-19 may have to be strengthened after more cases of virus-related stillbirths were identified.
Two more stillbirths linked to infection of the placenta by Covid-19 have been reported, bringing the total number of cases to six, the HSE said.
The new evidence of a risk to the foetus “puts a different slant on things”, according to Prof Peter McKenna, director of the HSE’s National Women and Infants Health Programme, who said it was “more important than ever” that women avoid contracting the virus when they are expecting.
On Sunday night the Department of Health announced the lowest number of daily cases since mid-December when it said that 303 new cases of the virus had been identified.
Two further deaths, one of which occurred in March and the other in April, were also reported.
There were 213 Covid-19 patients in hospital as of 8am on Sunday, of which 53 were in intensive care (ICU). An additional seven people were admitted to hospital with the virus in the past 24 hours.
Preparations are continuing to extend the regime of mandatory hotel quarantine to several more countries this week, including the US, Canada, France, Italy, Belgium and 11 other countries. But two people who had travelled from Israel were released from quarantine on Sunday pending court hearings, after they launched High Court challenges to their detention.
Both parties, an Irish man and an Israeli woman, had travelled separately from Israel and both say they have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 before arriving in Ireland.
Israel was on the list of countries from which travellers had to enter mandatory hotel quarantine. However, it was removed following a Cabinet meeting on Friday.
The Department of Health pointed out that three Covid-19 outbreaks in the past fortnight have been linked to overseas flights.
*This article was amended on April 12th, 2021