Ireland able to reopen with high level of cases once vaccinated

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is in detailed discussions with Nphet about redrafting the thresholds for allowing the country to reopen to take vaccine rates into account
Ireland able to reopen with high level of cases once vaccinated

Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

The Minister for Health is redrafting the thresholds for allowing the country to reopen to take the rollout of the vaccine into account.

Stephen Donnelly has told the Dáil that as the vaccine programme takes effect "the risk profile is fundamentally changing" which will allow for greater movement of people even if cases remain high.

"As the risk profile changes, our analysis and our evaluation of what's possible must change as well," Mr Donnelly told the Dáil.

The Minister said he is now in the middle of "a very detailed conversation" with Nphet's Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, led by Prof Philip Nolan, to factor in the changes in the risk profile.

In other words, Ireland would be able to deal with a higher level of cases in a much safer way when we have vaccinated and highly protected.

Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy suggested a more more nuanced strategy and a more imaginative approach is now required to the easing of restrictions and called for country or regional reopenings to take into account the different levels of the virus across the country.

Mr Donnelly said regional restrictions were included in the original plan. He would not speculate on such measures ahead of a Government announcement on April 5.

He added: "By vaccinating those most vulnerable, essentially, with the same number of cases what we will be expecting to see is significantly less illness and harm and death from that. And that's exactly what we want, we can start having a different conversation about people being able to return to more normal lives."

Mr Donnelly told the Dáil that in excess of 10,000 people have been recruited and trained as vaccinators, but said he would look into the issue after both Labour and the Social Democrats said the application process is overly complicated.

Sinn Féin's health spokesperson David Cullinane asked whether the shortfall in AstraZeneca vaccines would be caught up on the second quarter of the year.

Mr Donnelly said “as of right now, AstraZeneca have not committed to the European Commission that it will fulfill its original obligations".

Obviously this is something that we're not happy with.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said he found it "extraordinary" that Mr Donnelly was unable to give the Dáil the exact total of vaccines due to be delivered next week.

Responding, Mr Donnelly said "we do have these numbers for every single day for each company," but he added delivery schedules are "moving around at very short notice" which can cause public anxiety.

He said 95% of vaccines are administered within seven days of arriving into the country.

Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill said many at-risk people or those caring for family members are not clear about where they are on the vaccine list and cannot get answers.

"My bigger issue generally Ministers is just about being able to get answers for my constituents without having to come in here and ask you to directly or to badger your advisor or your private secretary, I can't get a response from my CHO, the HSE helpline refer me back to the vaccine rollout plan, any PQ with the word vaccine in it seems to get a generic response linking me back to the HSE website," she told the Dáil.

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