Covid crisis: Mass inoculation unlikely until May or June, says Taoiseach

Rollout of coronavirus vaccine will bring ‘tentative return’ to normality, says Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin: ‘We have . . . to be very vigilant and observe guidance in relation to personal behaviour.’ Photograph: PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin: ‘We have . . . to be very vigilant and observe guidance in relation to personal behaviour.’ Photograph: PA

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said mass inoculation against Covid-19 is unlikely to be possible until May or June as the vaccine will not be available in sufficient quantities until then.

Mr Martin said normal life will not return until the summer at the earliest and the return to normal will be “tentative”.

“I think the first six months of 2021 will see improvements but we certainly won’t have normality in the first six months as we knew it,” he said in Government Buildings.

Mr Martin said European Union leaders had been briefed by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen that manufacturing vaccines “will ramp up certainly [in] March onwards and she would have identified May-June as critical months in terms of high volumes of vaccines coming in”.

He added: “So I think from the summer on, I think we’ll see a degree of normality returning. But I can’t be definite about that. Because we see even this week in the UK the impact of a mutant variant of the virus and the dramatic impact it’s had on life in Britain and here as well.”

He said the expected volumes of vaccines in January and February are “relatively low in terms of what would come subsequently. But that’s where we’ll be dealing with nursing home residents and healthcare workers and key workers . . . that will make a significant difference in itself. If we can immunise and can protect those most vulnerable, that already begins to give us a greater freedom in terms of policy options and decisions we take.”

Asked specifically if he was saying it would be May-June before there was mass inoculation, Mr Martin replied: “That’s my sense of it right now. You will caveat that by saying that could be ramped up and accelerated. And this is an uncertain virus and can change.”

Mr Martin said rollout of the vaccine will bring a “a tentative return” to normality. “We have to be very vigilant and say to people that notwithstanding that the vaccine programme is being rolled out, you’d got to be very vigilant and observe guidance in relation to personal behaviour.”

More than 1,000 new infections

On Christmas Day, the National Public Health Emergency Team reported 1,025 new confirmed cases of the disease, bringing to 84,098 the total number of cases in the Republic. The last time the figure was over 1,000 was on October 25th.

A further two deaths of Covid-19 patients were also reported by the team. This brings to 2,194 the total number of deaths in the pandemic. Chief medical officer Tony Holohan confirmed the new UK variant of Sars-CoV-2 has been identified in Ireland through whole genome sequencing at the National Virus Reference Laboratory in UCD.

Meanwhile, Department of Health research shows public opinion became significantly more cautious and pessimistic between last week and early this week.

Six out of 10 respondents to the department’s weekly poll, conducted by Amárach research, believe there should be tighter restrictions, up from 44 per cent a week earlier. The number who say there should not be any more restrictions fell from 37 per cent to 26 per cent.

Similarly, numbers who believe the worst of this pandemic is behind us have slumped – from 33 per cent last week to 14 per cent this week; while those who believe the worst is ahead has advanced from 27 per cent to 43 per cent.

The abrupt turnaround in public opinion came before the new restrictions were announced by the Government on Tuesday.

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