Taoiseach signals reopening to proceed even if there’s ‘bad news’ on J&J vaccine

Martin agrees attending sports, post-match pints and going to weddings should be possible by end of 2021

The Taoiseach  agreed that going to spectator sports with post-match pints and attending weddings should be possible by the end of the year. File photograph: iStock

The Taoiseach agreed that going to spectator sports with post-match pints and attending weddings should be possible by the end of the year. File photograph: iStock

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has signalled that the reopening of hairdressers, non-essential retail and religious services will still proceed even if there are limits put on the use of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Mr Martin also agreed that going to spectator sports with post-match pints and attending weddings should be possible by the end of the year but emphasised a cautious approach will be taken by Government for next week’s decisions on reopening and beyond.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) is considering how the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be used in Ireland after it was linked to very rare blood clots in the United States.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has said the benefits of the vaccine outweigh any risk.

Ireland is set to have around 600,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson delivered over the coming months but limiting its use to certain age groups - as happened with AstraZeneca - could impact the speed of the vaccine rollout.

In an interview on Newstalk Radio on Friday evening Mr Martin was asked if bad news from NIAC on Johnson & Johnson could tie the government’s hands in terms of reopening decisions.

Mr Martin said it’s a very important vaccine that would advance the rollout but he added that the vaccination programme is working and has reduced severe illness, deaths, transmission and hospitalisations - particularly among the most vulnerable.

He said 95 per cent of over 70s are vaccinated, people with underlying conditions are being inoculated and those in their 60s are registering for their jabs. “We are making progress quickly in relation to those groups that were most vulnerable.

“So, that means we can still begin to reopen with caution, some sectors, as we have indicated we would”. Examples he gave of sectors that will be examined next week were hairdressers and barbers, non-essential retail and religious services.”

We’ll make a decision next week and make a comprehensive statement in relation to that.”

Mr Martin was being interviewed as part of a series on reimagining Ireland and it was put to him that what many people wanted was a return to normality.

“To have a pint”, Mr Martin said adding: “Won’t it be wonderful”.

He was asked if he could see himself, by the end of 2021, attending a championship match and having a pint on the way home or attending a wedding.

Mr Martin said: “At the end of 2021 I can”.

He said: “There will be a bit of nervousness around the autumn and winter period because I do believe there’s a seasonality attached to this virus.

“I think we need to just tread with a bit of caution through the winter, but I do think we can open up over time. And I think we need to do it cautiously to be frank.”

He played down a suggestion put to him that he could be in Páirc Uí Chaoimh with 10,000 to 15,000 people saying: “Hold on now. Slow it down now with the 10,000 to 15,000 people. I don’t know if we’re going to get there. I can’t predict that far ahead.”

However, the Taoiseach said he can see spectators coming back “at some stage”. “I think vaccination has to happen to a very significant degree, and there’ll be evaluation of the vaccination programmes.

“I think what I can see happening is gradually we can open up sectors, but once we open them, we want them to stay open.

“We want to make decisions that are long lasting, not short term, start/stop, close down again.

“That really is soul destroying for many people in different sectors,” he said.