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caution calls Vaccine roll-out does not mean social distancing or mask wearing can be relaxed, Taoiseach says

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Ireland is poised to begin a mammoth vaccination programme once the European Medicines Authority (EMA) gives the green light to the first tranche of vaccines. Photo: PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Ireland is poised to begin a mammoth vaccination programme once the European Medicines Authority (EMA) gives the green light to the first tranche of vaccines. Photo: PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Ireland is poised to begin a mammoth vaccination programme once the European Medicines Authority (EMA) gives the green light to the first tranche of vaccines. Photo: PA

TAOISEACH Micheál Martin has insisted Ireland can avoid a third Covid-19 lockdown in the New Year, but warned that an imminent vaccine roll-out does not mean people can relax social-distancing, mask wearing or other protective measures.

Mr Martin said Ireland is poised to begin a mammoth vaccination programme once the European Medicines Authority (EMA) gives the green light to the first tranche of vaccines.

The Government will today decide who gets priority access to the new Covid-19 vaccines with frontline healthcare workers, essential workers, those with underlying health conditions and the elderly all expected to be offered vaccinations first.

"We are part of the EU consortium that has pre-purchased the vaccines.

"The EMA will determine (the roll-out date) - they have pencilled in a date on December 29 for its decision in relation to the authorisation of this particular vaccine, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. We are working in parallel with them in terms of getting our logistics ready.

“I hope to receive preliminary reports from the taskforce in relation to the rollout of the vaccines in Ireland.

“If the European Medicines Board brings forward its date, that’s a matter for it and we will be ready for it in any event.

“I think what’s important is that we get the organisation of this right and obviously we will be going to Government tomorrow in relation to the sequencing of the delivery of the vaccine - in other words the prioritisation of who is getting it first and in what order and what sequence and that is important as well.

“At the same time it is very important we keep the focus on our individual behaviour and keep the numbers down. Particularly we are very conscious of any potential impact on hospitalisation and mortality and on ICU occupancy if the numbers start rising again.

"The arrival of the vaccine provides the opportunity to ultimately emerge from Covid-19 but it will take some time obviously in terms of the administration of the various vaccines to the population.

"In the meantime we have got to make sure that the virus does not spread across the population."

Mr Martin said that while the vaccines are a critical weapon in the battle against Covid-19, he warned that Irish people need to stick rigidly to protective measures if further restrictions to reduce case numbers are to be avoided in early 2021.

"The correct balance was arrived at (with Covid-19 policy). If wet pubs were opened in their entirety there is no doubt we would have been facing very dramatically escalating numbers by the end of this month.

"Unfortunately that is the reality - it is not casting any aspersions on pub owners. It is not their fault. It is just the nature of what happened in pubs in the autumn period which we tracked and know about. It is very difficult for publicans."

"Our fundamental objective is to protect life and to protect public health. Already we can see numbers are still in and around the 300 mark.”

"The situation from a Covid-19 perspective is one we have to keep under constant review."

"The idea that you could open up everything is not tenable - I think we have got the balance right because you can't keep a population under severe restrictions for too long."

"People did work very hard for six weeks - they got the numbers well and truly down."

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