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LOCKDOWN LATEST Tough Covid restrictions to last until June despite official all-clear for AstraZeneca vaccine

Any moves to reopen the economy will be cautious until well into the summer amid stubbornly high infection rates and disappointingly slow roll-out of vaccines.


A deserted Henry Street in Dublin as shops and business remain closed

A deserted Henry Street in Dublin as shops and business remain closed

A deserted Henry Street in Dublin as shops and business remain closed

The country looks set to face tough restrictions until some time in June after progress in the battle to beat Covid-19 has stalled.

Any moves to reopen the economy will be cautious until well into the summer amid stubbornly high infection rates and disappointingly slow roll-out of vaccines.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn has indicated that people should expect to be working from home full-time for the next three or four months. “The plan is to proceed very cautiously on the basis of the data in front of us for as long as it takes,” he said.

“I am hopeful that as we move into June, and those who have been most vulnerable to the severest effects of Covid-19 and millions of doses of vaccines are rolled out to the population, we will be in a much brighter place.”

He also ruled out any foreign travel before the end of June despite the EU proposals to introduce a digital health passport for people who have been vaccinated, recovered from infection, or had a negative test.

No deaths were reported yesterday but 582 new cases of the virus were diagnosed as the situation was described as “static or declining slowly”.

It comes as health authorities here are expected to give the go-ahead for Oxford AstraZeneca vaccinations to resume following the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) blood clot investigation when it announced yesterday it is safe and effective.

EMA director Emer Cooke said it had reached a “clear scientific conclusion” and had not found the vaccine associated with an increase in overall risk of blood clots.

However it did find “a small number of cases of rare and unusual but very serious clotting disorders” and it could not “rule out definitively a link between these cases and the vaccine”.

Patient information leaflets will draw attention to “possible rare conditions” to help people who receive the vaccine and to be aware of any possible wide effects.

Dr Glynn said the findings were last night being examined by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee and will be be brought to the Department of Health today.

A recommendation to resume roll-out is expected with around 30,000 people whose appointments were cancelled this week among the first to be offered the jab.

However, there are now fears some people may be hesitant to take the jab.

Professor Philip Nolan, who tracks the disease, said the stalling of cases was due to a rise in mobility, congregation and social mixing.

Mai Mannix, director of public health in the mid west, highlighted recent cases where visits to houses for cups of tea, a beer or chat ended up in the virus being passed around six households with more than 20 people testing positive.

She also mentioned an incident where 40 staff in a workplace caught the virus after no masks were worn and they let down their guard during smoking breaks.

There is also concern the number of people being admitted to hospital is static at around 20 to 25 a day and the reduction in the fall in intensive care patients has slowed.

There were 345 patients in hospital yesterday and 83 in intensive care. Prof Nolan said he expects to see more cases and outbreaks in schools but they are not necessarily linked to the school.

However, the high numbers in school and the incidence of the virus will mean more cases.

He said one of the clear messages is that once the virus gets into private homes it can spread quickly.

The UK variant is transmitting more easily and in order to counter risk people need to go back to how they were behaving around two to three weeks ago. “Go back to where you were a fortnight or three weeks ago,” he said.

More cases of variants of concern have also been found including the South African strain which now total 24.

HSE chief Paul Reid also warned yesterday there was an increase of 9pc in people being tested for the virus in the past week .

Meanwhile, commenting on the EMA’s decision on the AstraZeneca vaccine, the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), which polices medicines here, said “close safety monitoring of reports of blood clotting disorders will continue, and further studies are underway to provide more laboratory data as well as analysis of further real-world evidence.

“The HPRA will continue to participate in this review with the EMA and other national medicines regulators. Further updates will be communicated as appropriate.

“To date, no national cases of these very rare blood clots associated with low levels of platelets have been reported to the HPRA.

In the region of 2,000 reports associated with Covid AstraZeneca vaccine have been notified, of which seven describe individuals who have been diagnosed or are being investigated for a blood clotting event after vaccination.

“These events describe a typical profile of clotting seen at any time in the general population, such as clots in the lung or legs. AstraZeneca said it will continue to work closely with health authorities to ensure the appropriate use.”

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