Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said existing delays in vaccine deliveries will not prevent an easing of Covid-19 restrictions after April 5th but said any changes would be "very modest".
He cited a return to work on building sites, a lifting of the 5km limit for exercise, the resumption of click-and-collect shopping and allowing more outdoor activities as the kinds of restrictions that could be eased in April.
Mr Varadkar said: “What we made very clear in the plan when we published a few weeks ago is that we would review the situation in the run up to the 5th of April. And we’ve said that the only kind of restrictions that we could see being eased in April would be construction, the 5km rule and allowing more activities outdoors.” He added: “That remains the case.
“Even if the number of vaccines is slightly behind schedule we’re making very good progress in terms of suppressing the virus.”
Mr Varadkar told RTÉ radio's News at One that on Tuesday Ireland recorded the lowest number of new cases in the European Union which he caveated as "only one day" but added is "a big turnaround from where we were back in January."
He said: “Numbers in ICU below 100 now, numbers in hospital below 400.
“So we’re very much going in the right direction and I think that the delay in the vaccine deliveries won’t prevent us from easing restrictions on the 5th of April but we only ever intended to do some very modest easing anyway.”
The Fine Gael leader said that click-and-collect shopping was currently not allowed but was catered for under Level 5 restrictions. He said it was something that could be considered for April but not the wider reopening of non-essential retailers.
He later told a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting no decision on easing restrictions would be made until the week leading up to April 5th, warning that the focus would be to not jeopardise schools and childcare. He said that if the Government “jumped ahead” of the plan, it could end up going backwards.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil the Government would decide in the first week of April on the level of restrictions that would apply for the following six weeks.
Current Level 5 restrictions remain in place until Easter Monday and Mr Martin’s comments were the first signal of the Government’s approach to opening up the economy and society, signalling that the approach will be in six-week tranches.
Mr Martin said: “In the week leading into the 5th [of April] we will have this situation reviewed. We’ll take advice from public health and we will then advise in terms of what we believe is the best way forward for the following six weeks after that.”
Speaking later at a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting he dampened down any expectations of further easing of restrictions in April beyond the already flagged changes of a resumption of construction, a lifting of the 5km travel limit, as well as a limited return of outdoor activities.
“We will not be engaging in speculation beyond that and we need to keep the focus to get the numbers down,” he said.
He suggested to the meeting the Government would only begin to consider options for reopening society once all those in vulnerable groups have been vaccinated.
Earlier, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman told Morning Ireland that the Government was “deeply frustrated” that the commitments made by pharmaceutical companies about the delivery of vaccines were not being met. As soon as vaccines arrived they were being distributed, he said.
When asked about the possibility of restrictions being lifted, the Minister said that any lessening of restrictions would have to be tailored in conjunction with the rollout of the vaccination programme.
The Level 5 restrictions were working, real progress was being made with the number of cases reducing. Vaccination was a key element in getting the Level 5 measures reduced, he said.