Marita Moloney
Marita Moloney

15.46 23 Jan 2021


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The Taoiseach has said there will be a "conservative approach" to the reopening of society out of level five coronavirus restrictions.

Micheál Martin has previously stated that the current lockdown will be extended until at least the end of February.

A full Cabinet meeting is due to take place on Tuesday to discuss the implementation of further restrictions, as well as the possibility of introducing additional travel constraints.

In an interview with Newstalk, Mr Martin said the Government would be reviewing the public health measures every four weeks.

He said: "We are looking at a more cautious and conservative approach to reopening because we have a vaccination rollout happening in parallel, which basically means that protection is coming for greater numbers of the population month after month.

"That's important because it reduces mortality and it reduces serious illnesses.

"We will have greater choices to make, greater manoeuvrability, once the vaccination programme rolls out to significant numbers of people, and that will then influence the reopening and phased reopening of society."

Vaccine rollout

It comes as news that AstraZeneca will be cutting deliveries of the Oxford vaccine by 60% to the European Union has been described as a "real setback" by the Minister for Health.

Mr Martin agreed that this is a "concern" but added that notwithstanding the delayed supply of the AstraZeneca jab, the vaccination rollout will pick up here in the second quarter of this year.

"It is a setback in that the volumes coming in from AstraZeneca, particularly from February onwards, will be very significant on top of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine and that would have enabled us to push out to the wider population beyond the nursing homes, beyond the hospitals and beyond the frontline healthcare workers," he said.

"It would have allowed us to push into the over 70s age cohort in a very significant way over the latter part of February and March.

"So at the moment it looks like that will have to be held back and that is a worry and that is a concern.

The Taoiseach said that the two main points are the authorisation of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was supposed to be January 29th, and the outcome of negotiation between the EU Commission and the company in relation to specific volumes of the vaccine to be delivered.

"I don't believe the Commission is happy about it, there are contractual arrangements between AstraZeneca and the Commission," he added.

"The Commission will want to see them fulfilled so there is a degree of annoyance across the EU member states now in relation to this news.

"It does represent a scaling back and a setback in terms of the delivery of that particular vaccine.

"It is a worrying setback and it illustrates the difficulties and the challenges in terms of mobilising the fast vaccination of people."

Pfizer has been the leading manufacturer and supplier of the vaccine against coronavirus here, he explained, and said Ireland will get further supplies of the jab in the second quarter of this year which will provide for a greater rollout of the inoculation to a wider swathe of the population

"But the AstraZeneca news is not good news for the vaccination programme right now and the EU Commission will engage with the company to see how much of this they can pull back and store," he said.

Travel restrictions

Meanwhile, there have been increased calls in recent days for the introduction of a mandatory quarantine period of at least five days for people arriving in Ireland from abroad.

It comes as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned yesterday that the UK coronavirus variant may be more deadly than the original.

Mr Martin and Mr Johnson spoke yesterday about the possibility of a two-island system of quarantine.

However, these talks are at an "embryonic stage", according to the Taoiseach.

A Cabinet sub-committee is set to consider further travel restrictions on Monday before Tuesday's full meeting.

"I spoke to the British Prime Minister more generally in terms of the potential travel restrictions that Britain may introduce, and also I spoke to him in relation to the most recent research in relation to the UK variant and that the emerging research suggests that this variant is more deadly as well as being more transmissible," he said.

"That is causing concern in the UK, it's causing concern here among clinicians.

"We did briefly talk about the idea of a two-island strategy, but that's very embryonic, and could we have common alignment in relation to travel in and out of the UK, in and out of the island of Ireland, and there will be ongoing discussions around that."

Schools

On the issue of schools reopening, the Taoiseach said the Government's priority is getting children with special educational needs back into classrooms.

The priority is special needs education, he stated, but in terms of the "broader school community", he expressed concern that the levels of transmission are very high in society.

He said: "The objective in not reopening our schools was not having many people on the move at one time.

"Community transmission is still too high to have one million people moving about the place at any given time at the moment.

The issue will be considered "in greater detail" on Monday but Mr Martin said we are looking at a "phased reopening" of schools over time.

However, he wouldn't give a specific date, saying that it depends on the case numbers, which are coming down.

"That is absolutely critical to get schools open and reduce the pressures on our hospitals and our intensive care as well," he added.

Additional reporting by Tom Douglas

Main image: Taoiseach Micheál Martin outside Government Buildings in Dublin. Credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

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