Covid-19: Cabinet split on easing 5km limit in April as work from home advice to remain until June

Pessimism expressed on key metrics of hospitalisations, vaccinations and cases

Some at Cabinet believe the incidence of Covid-19 is not low enough to warrant relaxation of restrictions, while others believe the Government will lose vital public buy-in without a change. File photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins

Some at Cabinet believe the incidence of Covid-19 is not low enough to warrant relaxation of restrictions, while others believe the Government will lose vital public buy-in without a change. File photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins

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Ministers are split on easing the 5km travel restriction next month as concerns mount over the country’s progress in the battle against Covid-19.

Public health chiefs on Thursday night indicated advice against non-essential overseas travel and working from home will remain until the end of June, as talks on the resumption of the AstraZeneca vaccine continued overnight following a favourable review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Several senior sources this week expressed pessimism on recent progress on key metrics: hospitalisations, vaccinations and cases.

A decision has not been made on whether the 5km restriction will be lifted on April 5th. Some at Cabinet believe the incidence of Covid-19 is not low enough to warrant relaxation, while others believe the Government will lose vital public buy-in without a change.

A further 582 cases of the disease were reported on Thursday, and no new deaths. Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said the reproduction number, a measure of how many other people a case infects, stands at between 0.8 and 1.1.

Plateauing

Key indicators are in a “period of stasis”, he said, with the plateauing of figures over the past 10 days linked to an increase in mobility, while there had been a “clear and significant” increase in workplace attendances.

One Government source said an easing of restrictions along the lines of Northern Ireland is “the best we can hope for at the moment”. Across the Border, the focus is on small outdoor gatherings and some sporting activities as well as certain click-and-collect services. Reopening construction remains in the balance here.

It comes as the EMA cleared the way for countries to restart administering the AstraZeneca vaccine. Several states, including Ireland, had paused over concerns about a small number of clotting incidents. Irish authorities said seven blood clotting events have been reported after vaccination, but not at a level greater than expected.

EMA chief Emer Cooke said she would be “vaccinated with AstraZeneca tomorrow”, although the agency will insist on new warnings on the risk of clotting and ongoing research on the issue. Attention now shifts to the recommendation of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC), which guides the Government on vaccines.

Restart

A recommendation is expected on Friday, with France, Italy, Germany and Spain signalling they would restart using the shot. Senior political sources suggested the vaccine could be back in use by the weekend, although HSE sources believe it could take several days, especially if the NIAC advice is nuanced.

Meanwhile, the opposition is calling on Taoiseach Micheál Martin to clarify whether he sought vaccines on loan from the US during a call with president Joe Biden. Washington has confirmed it will send four million vaccines to Canada and Mexico under a loan agreement.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said Mr Martin should clarify “if he even broached the subject of a loan of some vaccines from the US”. A spokesman for Mr Martin said US allocation of vaccines “is solely a matter for the US government”. It is understood Mr Biden raised the vaccine supply situation of Canada and Mexico during his call with the Taoiseach, while Mr Martin explained issues Ireland and the EU faced.

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