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Plan for phased return of international travel needed by end of May – Tanaiste

Leo Varadkar made the remarks as the Government considers the easing of Covid-19 restrictions from next month.

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Signs for antigen covid testing at Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport (Brian Lawless/PA)

Signs for antigen covid testing at Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport (Brian Lawless/PA)

Signs for antigen covid testing at Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Tanaiste has said there needs to be a proposed plan by the end of May on a phased return to international travel.

Leo Varadkar told the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday evening that the country needs to examine the issue as more vaccines are administered.

His comments comes as a Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 meets to discuss what restrictions can be eased in the next three months following advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team.

The committee is made up of the three coalition leaders, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath.

They are due to make a recommendation to the entire Cabinet on Thursday, ahead of an official announcement later in the evening.

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Leo Varadkar (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Leo Varadkar (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

PA

Leo Varadkar (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

The Irish public have been living with high levels of coronavirus restrictions since December.

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Restrictions are expected to be eased on non-essential retail, personal services such as hairdressers, construction and religious ceremonies on a staggered basis throughout May.

Museums, galleries, libraries and some outdoor attractions will also reopen in May.

It is understood there is also a possibility of outdoor hospitality reopening during the last week in May with the rest of the hospitality sector following in June.

Earlier Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said the lifting of the inter-county travel ban will coincide with the reopening of hotels to allow people to travel domestically.

Mr Ryan said the “opening up of hospitality is inter-county travel”, adding “the two go together”.

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Eamon Ryan (Brian Lawless/PA)

Eamon Ryan (Brian Lawless/PA)

PA

Eamon Ryan (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Green Party leader also said that with the vaccine rollout ramping up he believes there is an opportunity to start opening up the country more widely, including the aviation sector.

Meanwhile, the Dail heard that changes to the advice on the vaccine rollout could see people under 50 moved up the queue.

The Government this week signed off on a recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Council (NIAC) that the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) jabs be given to over-50s only.

The HSE is to make adjustments to the rollout plans based on this advice in the coming days, the Taoiseach told the Dail on Wednesday.

The new advice presents a logistical problem, because the vast majority of the J&J vaccines are due at the end of June, by which point the 50 to 59 age cohort should already be vaccinated.

Raising the issue during Leaders’ Questions, Labour’s Alan Kelly queried if this meant younger people would move up the queue.

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Labour leader Alan Kelly (Brian Lawless/PA).

Labour leader Alan Kelly (Brian Lawless/PA).

PA

Labour leader Alan Kelly (Brian Lawless/PA).

He said: “How are you going to ensure that the Janssen vaccine is used for 50 and 59-year-olds without skipping that cohort, and going down to younger cohorts, and then coming back to them?

“Is that being considered, or what is the plan? Because logistically, it’s very difficult to see how it can work without doing so.

“That’s coming in late June, and all people from 50 to 59 should have their first vaccination by then.”

Taoiseach Micheal Martin responded: “In terms of the operational logistics, in terms of age cohorts, the HSE is working through that.

“It’s very clear that we’re going to have to get moving and get vaccinating with available vaccines as they come in.”

He added that the HSE will come back with a revised approach to the rollout in respect of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines following NIAC’s advice.

Mr Kelly also said he had noticed a “change in language” around vaccine targets since the NIAC advice was confirmed.

Questions have arisen over the Government’s target of vaccinating 82% of the population by June.

Responding, Mr Martin said: “The objective is to get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can, notwithstanding all of the obstacles that have arisen, to keep close to those targets by the end of June.”

Ireland has just received more than 190,000 doses of the PfizerBioNTech vaccine for Covid-19, the largest shipment to date.

Mr Martin told the Dail: “There was very good news today in terms of PfizerBioNTech. The largest ever delivery has arrived, 191,800 Pfizer vaccines have arrived.”

Last week 183,000 vaccines were administered in the country.

Mr Martin confirmed that he registered for his vaccination on Tuesday.

The Taoiseach said the vaccine programme will be key to reopening society.

As of Monday, 1,417,942 doses of Covid-19 vaccines had been administered in Ireland.

To date, Ireland has received 1,146,600 Pfizer jabs, 391,200 from AstraZeneca, 163,200 from Moderna and 14,400 from Janssen this year.

Around 50% of Moderna vaccines are held back for second doses.

About 95% of available vaccines are administered within seven days of arrival in Ireland.

Wednesday saw 13 further deaths and 371 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed in Ireland, the Department of Health said.

Three of the deaths occurred in April, three in March, and seven in February or earlier.

The five-day moving average of new cases is 424.

Ireland’s 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 population stands at 121.2.

On Wednesday morning, 153 people with coronavirus were in hospital – including 45 in intensive care.


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