Ireland ‘on track’ to further ease restrictions in May, says Varadkar

Martin says ‘progress is being made’ with vaccine rollout after turbulent 24 hours

Tánaiste  Leo Varadkar arriving at Government Buildings for a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar arriving at Government Buildings for a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar moved to offer reassurance to the public after a turbulent 24 hours of news on vaccines with both insisting the rollout targets here remain achievable.

They also expressed confidence that plans to further ease Covid-19 restrictions in early May remained on course.

Mr Martin said the news that Ireland was to get more than 500,000 additional doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine puts the rollout “on track in terms of key targets”.

He said that although deliveries of the Janssen/Johnson&Johnson vaccine to Europe were paused it “may come back into play following interaction with the European Medicines Agency”.

He told RTÉ News “progress is being made” with the vaccine rollout, schools had reopened, the 5km limit had been lifted and construction of housing was back, adding that the Government would still be looking at measures for other sectors of society towards the end of April.

Mr Varadkar said “we’re still very much on track to meet our targets between 3.5 million and 4.5 million vaccines being administered in the second quarter of this year.”

He said the number of people in hospital with Covid stands at less than 200 for the first time this year and the R-number was below one.

In a video posted on Twitter he also said “We’re on track as well to ease restrictions on the 4th of May so lots of things to be positive about”.

He said: “Of course there’s going to be twists and turns. That was always going to be the case but just wanted to reassure you about those things.”

Under the Government’s reopening plan, outdoor sports and visitor attractions will resume from April 26th.

From that date, golf courses, football pitches, tennis courts and other outdoor sporting facilities will be permitted to reopen, with non-contact training allowed in pods of up to 15 people for underage teams.

Outdoor visitor attractions, such as zoos, heritage sites, and pet farms, will also reopen to the public.

Also from April 26th, the limit on numbers permitted to attend funerals will be increased from 10 mourners to 25.

Hairdressers and other personal services, religious services, as well as museums, galleries and libraries are planned to reopen from May 4th.

From this date too there will be a phased reopening of non-essential retail, starting with click-and-collect services, and outdoor stores such as garden centres.

Quarantine system

Meanwhile, the Government has rejected suggestions it failed to plan for contingencies in the mandatory hotel quarantine scheme after capacity constraints led to a temporary suspension of bookings.

Asked was there a failure to adequately plan for such eventualities, a Government spokesman insisted that a lot of planning had gone into the system.

However, a review of the workings of the scheme will now be carried out following a discussion on the issue at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting. It is understood that among the changes being considered are possible exemptions for people who can prove they are fully vaccinated, as well as possible earlier release from quarantine for those with a series of negative PCR tests.

The Taoiseach is said to have spoken of the need for a “humanitarian” approach at the meeting. This comes in the wake of a series of challenges under Article 40 of the Constitution by people who have been placed in quarantine: they have claimed that their detention under the scheme is unconstitutional.

The spokesman said there had been a contingency plan for surge capacity but what had not been expected was the number of so-called “walk-ins” - people who arrived in Dublin Airport who had not booked through the reservation system but came from one of the 71 countries, deemed as high-risk in terms of Covid-19.

“We are the only country in the EU that has taken this unprecedented measure,” said the spokesman.

The Government had done modelling from other places where mandatory hotel quarantine had been introduced. The expected sharp decrease in passenger numbers had not happened as expected.

The Department of Health is now working to increase the capacity of the system, which involves recruiting and training additional personnel.

“The challenge is having the support staff and training up people. That is what takes longer to ramp up,” said the spokesman.

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