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glimmer of hope Varadkar urges public to 'stick with the plan' as Ireland faces another six weeks of lockdown

Varadkar acknowledged that people were “depressed, anxious and fatigued” due to the length of the current lockdown, but said there was cause for hope.

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Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA

Tánaisate Leo Varadkar has said there are “grounds for optimism” despite the country remaining in Level 5 restrictions until at least April 5.

Last night, Government revealed their revised plan for living with Covid-19 which involves a cautious and phased approach to reopening society, which will see businesses closed for another six weeks at least.

Mr Varadkar acknowledged that people were “depressed, anxious and fatigued” due to the length of the current lockdown, but said there was cause for hope.

“There are grounds for optimism; this virus is in retreat. It’s in retreat around the world, the number of new cases every day across the world has halved in the last month or so.

“The number of cases in Ireland every day is down considerably. The number of people in hospitals and ICU are all falling and that is due to what people have been doing,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

The Tánaiste said people need to “stick with the plan” for the next number of weeks to drive numbers down to much lower than they are now, and also “to give hospitals a rest and the breathing space they need”.

Mr Varadkar admitted that the government’s commitment to having 60pc of adults fully vaccinated by June was based on “certain assumptions” such as supply and also authorisation being granted for use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.

A fifth vaccine, CureVac, may also become available later this year which isn’t factored into the plan, giving Government possible “headroom” in their rollout projections.

The Tanaiste said the Government is “confident” that Ireland will go from about 100,000 vaccines a week to 250,000 per week in April; “That is a huge scale-up.”

Mr Varadkar said that if everyone over 60, and everyone under 60 with a chronic condition is vaccinated, “that is actually 98pc of the job in terms of deaths and hospitalisations”.

“We may really see the vaccine making a difference in people getting sick and deaths as opposed to cases, in May or June. That could put us in a position to make decisions that we can’t make now,” the Tánaiste said.

Government will reassess all the metrics of the disease in early April and then assess the situation every three or four weeks with regard to relaxing restrictions or not, the Tánaiste confirmed.

Mr Varadkar said the PUP, CRSS and Employee Wage Subsidy schemes were extended until June 30 in an attempt to give people and businesses receiving them “security” rather than signalling no businesses would be opening before then.

He said there were six elements to ‘The Path Ahead’ document, with the return of schools, childcare and regular healthcare the first port of call.

“Next week we will see kids in their uniforms walking to school, that is going to lift my spirits. It’s a strange thing to lift the spirits but it will be a great thing to see that kind of normality again.

“The vaccine programme is being sped up, that is going to be really encouraging too, seeing 100,000 people a week getting their vaccine,” the Tánaiste said.

“There are four tests we are going to apply, based on advice from our public health doctors and scientists.

“The first one is, are case numbers falling, and is the R number still at or below one?

“The second is what do our hospitals look like? Are the numbers in hospitals and in ICUs lower than they are now.

“Over the course of the next month we would like to see the number of people in hospital and in ICU fall to half of what it is now, but it isn’t just about any one number, it is about the trends,” Mr Varadkar said.

The Tánaiste said it was also really important that the vaccination programme remains on track and were it to “fall behind schedule, it would cause us to reassess”.

The final point of concern is new variants. He said it can’t be “exactly measured” whether variants of concern are circulating in the community or the effect they were having on the overall profile of the virus.

The Tánaiste admitted that the continued opening of schools is contingent upon case numbers, hospital numbers and vaccination progress being maintained in the coming weeks and months.

“The last time schools went back in September we didn’t see a significant increase in the number of cases, so that gives us some reassurance. The difference this time is the B117 variant and that does seem to behave differently, among children as well as among adults.

“If it turns out that the return to schools causes a significant spike in infection, then we won’t hesitate to make the right decision, which would be to defer that [reopening],” Mr Varadkar said.

The Tánaiste said there would be clear messaging to parents that this was about kids returning to school and not “an opportunity to catch up with other parents”.


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