Planned easing of restrictions on May 4 now a 'slam dunk'

Planned easing of restrictions on May 4 now a 'slam dunk'

Micheál Martin signalled that the proposed changes for May are still on track. Picture: Julien Behal Photography 

The country has "turned a corner" in its battle against Covid-19 and a more optimistic timescale for opening the economy may now be considered, Cabinet ministers have indicated.

In spite of the vaccines chaos earlier this week, ministers say that the reduction in Covid-19 deaths and cases has been such that the planned easing of a number of restrictions on May 4 is now a "slam dunk". 

They also say a relaxation of the ban on inter-county travel before July is possible if Covid numbers continue to fall.

It comes as the Taoiseach said the country's goal to have given a vaccine dose to 82% of adults by the end of June will be met.

Micheál Martin said there "will be bumps along the way", but the vaccine programme, which has suffered two setbacks in recent days with the reclassification of the AstraZeneca vaccine and the pause of the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson jab, is "agile and responsive".

The vaccine programme received a major boost when the European Commission confirmed Ireland will receive 550,000 extra Pfizer doses before June, which may allow the Government to stretch the date between doses of the vaccine and reach the 82% target. 

It comes as 12 further Covid-19 related deaths and 431 new cases of the virus were confirmed.

Several ministers, speaking to the Irish Examiner, have pointed to the significant drop in Covid-19 case numbers, hospitalisations, and people in ICU beds and said the vaccination of the elderly and vulnerable people must allow for some dividend to the public.

The lifting of the ban on inter-county travel before July is seen as both possible and necessary. One senior minister said allowing people to move around the country will have to happen because any ban still in place will be unenforceable by then.

Sources suggest that while Ireland will have some level of restrictions including hotel quarantine and on indoor events "for a while", the coming summer can be "as open as last year, if not more so".

The re-opening of non-essential retail click-and-collect, outdoor retail such as garden centres, personal services, and the full return of construction on May 4 are now seen as "a slam dunk" according to ministerial sources.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that Ireland is on track to reach the next reopening milestone in early May.

Yesterday’s Cabinet meeting began in a “glum” mood following the chaos of the previous 24 hours in relation to both the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

During the meeting, Mr Martin “left the room” to take a call from EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen who told him about the extra 545,000 Pfizer vaccines for Ireland.

At Cabinet, Mr Martin said the timeframe for relaxation of restrictions is unchanged, but more significantly signalled that the proposed changes for May are still on track.

“For Micheál, the most cautious politician in Ireland, this was significant to commit his colours so far out. This was a positive sign,” said one minister.

Discussions are also ongoing at government level about cancelling mandatory hotel quarantine for vaccinated people.

The issue was discussed at Cabinet after a number of court challenges and pressure from the business sector.

A government spokesman confirmed the matter is still under review. It is understood there are two opinions in Government on whether to alter the system now it is live. It is expected it will be discussed further next week.

Department of Health officials are still "working through the ramifications" of reaching capacity for hotel quarantine this week and are said to be sourcing extra capacity for the system and to ensure there is a buffer in place so "walk-ins" can be catered for as many are arriving from listed countries without booking their quarantine ahead of their flight.

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