Time to be hopeful and start planning our summer, says Holohan

Ministers consider ‘summer stimulus’ package as rollout of one-shot vaccine begins

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: ‘The choices we make now are vital to minimise the incidence of Covid-19 throughout May and June. Prioritise being outside and avoid crowds.’ Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: ‘The choices we make now are vital to minimise the incidence of Covid-19 throughout May and June. Prioritise being outside and avoid crowds.’ Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

 

With more than 30 per cent of adults vaccinated with one dose of Covid-19 vaccine it is time to feel hopeful and to start “planning our summer,” according to chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.

“The choices we make now are vital to minimise the incidence of Covid-19 throughout May and June. Prioritise being outside and avoid crowds. Know the symptoms – self-isolate immediately and phone your GP if you have them.

“By protecting yourself, you are protecting everyone you know from infection.”

The latest HSE figures show as of Wednesday evening, 1.7 million Covid-19 vaccine doses had been administered. Of these 1.23 million people received a first jab (32.56 per cent of the population over the age of 16).

Of those 466,000 (12.3 per cent) or one-in-eight of the adult population have been fully vaccinated with 42,000 vaccines administered on Wednesday.

A further eight deaths of Covid-19 patients have been reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team.

Three of the deaths occurred this month, two in March, and three in February or earlier.

This brings to 4,921 the total number of deaths in the pandemic.

Nphet also reported 393 confirmed cases of the disease.

Of the new cases, 173 were in Dublin, 42 in Cork, 34 in Kildare, 26 in Donegal and 15 in Meath, with the remaining 103 cases spread across 20 other counties.

The 14-day incidence of the disease now stands at 130 cases per 100,000 people nationally. Donegal has the highest county incidence, followed by Kildare. Kerry has the lowest incidence.

The median age of cases was 28 years and 79 per cent were under 45.

On Thursday morning, 131 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of which 36 were in ICU. There were 16 additional hospitalisations in the past 24 hours.

Tourism and hospitality

Meanwhile, senior Ministers discussed plans for a “summer stimulus” package to be announced alongside the Government’s National Economic Plan in the last week of May.

The initiative – similar to last year’s July stimulus – will be geared towards sectors hardest hit by the pandemic including tourism and hospitality.

One measure expected to be included in the stimulus package is the extension of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) beyond the end of June when it is currently due to expire.

The overall National Economic Plan will be focused on getting people back to work. Ways of leveraging Ireland’s allocation of EU’s recovery fund as part of efforts to boost employment in the digital economy and climate action were said to have been considered by Ministers.

The Cabinet committee on economic recovery also looked at options for continuing or phasing out pandemic supports such as the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and the Covid-19 Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) though no decisions were made about their future.

In recent weeks the Government has insisted there will be no cliff-edge end to such supports though it has flagged a gradual tapering of at least some supports as the country reopens and people return to work.

It is understood that no decision has been made on the timing of reducing the €350-per-week PUP rate amid a stated intention to slowly bring it to the same level as jobseeker’s payments.

On Thursday, the HSE began the rollout of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, with 700 doses distributed to homeless services operating in Dublin city centre.

The HSE began inviting 57-year-olds to register for the vaccine on Thursday. About 104,000 people aged over 50 have registered to date.

Walk-in centres

Two additional walk-in testing centres for people with no symptoms of Covid-19 are to open in Co Donegal, according to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

The first will be located on the grounds of the Donegal GAA Centre of Excellence in Convoy and will operate from Saturday until Monday between 11am and 7pm.

The second will run from Tuesday to Thursday next week between 11am and 7pm at the GAA club car park in Carndonagh.

The pop-up centres do not require an appointment and are aimed at detecting asymptomatic cases of Covid-19 in the community.

HSE national lead for test and trace, Niamh O’Beirne, has said more than 60,000 people have availed of a free Covid-19 test in the country’s pop-up testing centres, with 1,960 positive cases being detected. Sixteen pop-up centres are open at present.

She said the “vast majority” of those who come forward for testing are aged between 20 and 45 and their positivity is much higher than people over 65. Positivity rates in people under 45 who turn up for testing is 5 per cent; for those aged over 65, it is just 1.8 per cent.

Meanwhile, Lidl has announced it will be the first supermarket nationwide to sell antigen tests in store. One pack of five testing kits will cost €24.99, and these will be available in 168 stores across the Republic from May 7th. There will be a limit of five packs per customer.

Lidl Ireland chief executive, JP Scally, said: “It is our hope that by offering these tests, they will add an extra level of reassurance to our customers as they follow that advice.”