Level 5 lockdown to be extended as Varadkar predicts slow reopening of society

Delivery schedule of AstraZeneca vaccine is still not known, despite claims to the contrary by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly
Level 5 lockdown to be extended as Varadkar predicts slow reopening of society

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that a slower reopening of society when the previous lockdown was lifted “probably would have been better.” Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that a slower reopening of society when the previous lockdown was lifted pre-Christmas “probably would have been better.” 

The Government and Nphet have learned lessons from the latest Covid-19 surge and a slower reopening is now likely once the current lockdown is ended, Mr Varadkar told the Limerick Today show on Limerick Live 95.

He said he thought people would understand that it made sense to reopen more slowly this time around.

While every effort was being made to get the vaccine out, it was possible that the country would never get to the point where everyone was immune.

But if sufficient numbers of people were vaccinated then it would be possible to go back to normal life, he said.

When asked about reports that nurses at the Maternity Hospital in Limerick had vaccinations cancelled last week due to delays while members of management had been vaccinated the previous week, Mr Varadkar said that should not have been the case, but pointed out that sometimes staff categorised as admin were in fact patient-facing and anyone dealing directly with patients should be vaccinated.

Until such time as all the over-70s and front line workers were vaccinated “we should be very careful about what we reopen,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said the Government wanted schools to reopen and one of his regrets was that schools had been closed entirely during the first lockdown. In other jurisdictions, classes had remained open for special needs students and the vulnerable. This cohort was only four per cent of the school population and public health teams thought it was safe for them to reopen, he said.

“We want to get these classes and schools open and we will continue to work on that.”

It has emerged that current Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions look set to be extended next week, while ministers have been warned that the delivery schedule of the AstraZeneca is still not known.

Ministers will discuss the review of the country's restrictions, due to expire on January 31, next week, but Cabinet sources say they will be extended.

While there is no clarity on exactly when restrictions would be lifted, sources say it could be a “number of weeks”.

Meanwhile, a Cabinet memo discussed by ministers yesterday, seen by the Irish Examiner, reveals that dates for the arrival of the AstraZeneca vaccine are “not yet finalised”.

This revelation casts doubt on the Government’s timeline as the Cabinet approved a €91m scheme to allow GPs and pharmacists administer the vaccine to some 1.5m people.

The memo brought to Cabinet yesterday by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly states that the timescale of delivery of the 3.3m doses — enough to vaccinate more than 1.6m people — is projected to be mid-February, but warns this was not certain.

"The company has advised the HSE that deliveries of the AstraZeneca vaccine can be expected by mid-February but the date/s for this are not yet available as a delivery schedule has not yet been finalised," the memo states.

"A European Medicines Agency decision on the conditional marketing authorisation of the AstraZeneca vaccine may be made on January 29. Ireland will get an allocation of 3.3m doses of AstraZeneca in line with the signed advanced purchase agreement."

Mr Donnelly said on Sunday that the Government was in talks to receive these doses ahead of the approval by the European Medicines Agency, due on January 29.

However, the European Commission poured cold water on this idea, with a spokesperson telling the Irish Examiner that while vaccines can be delivered within hours of approval, they cannot be delivered beforehand.

"Vaccines cannot be delivered before[the] European Medicines Agency delivers its recommendation for authorisation and the commission then grants marketing authorization. This is a requirement as per the advanced purchase agreement."

The vaccination programme agreed yesterday will see GPs and pharmacists able to dispense the vaccines, when available.

Community hubs and sports halls are expected to be used as mass vaccination clinics. 

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