Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that “the end is truly in sight” as 82 per cent of people will have received their first Covid-19 vaccine by the end of June.
Mr Martin made the announcement in a live address to the nation from Government buildings, outlining the Government’s revised plan for managing the pandemic in the months ahead.
“I know that people are physically and emotionally exhausted by this pandemic,” he said in his address.
Mr Martin confirmed that Level 5 lockdown restrictions will continue until April 5th before a review of the Covid-19 situation.
He described the UK variant of Covid-19 as a “major problem”.
“In a very short period, it has spread to at least 75 countries around the world, and it is up to 70 per cent more contagious than the original virus.
“Up to 90 per cent of new infections in this country are from this new variant.”
Mr Martin said numbers would need to be kept low as Ireland ramps up vaccination and increases its stock of vaccines.
“When we open things, we want them to reopen,” said Mr Martin as he urged people to keep working from home where it is possible to do so.
“We want to reopen society as soon and as safely as possible”, he said, adding that the next phase would start if the country continues to maintain “downward pressure” on the virus.
He said outdoor gatherings, sport, construction and then the 5km limit will be examined after Easter.
I know how hard this is, I know the toll it is taking on people’s mental health and wellbeing.
“We are now in a position to implement a major ramping up of the vaccination programme,” he said.
“By the end of March we will have administered 1.25 million doses,” he said, pledging one million a month in April, May and June (dependent on the scheduled delivery of vaccines).
“We will continue to proceed carefully and cautiously, keeping the situation under constant review.
“The areas which will influence how we progress are as follows:
“The first is community transmission of the disease — we need to use the month of March to really drive down case numbers and get them as low as possible.
“Next, we will look at hospital and ICU occupancy — our health service has been under truly extraordinary pressure, as have the men and women who make it work. We remain deeply grateful for their heroic effort.
“We need to continue to reduce the numbers of people in hospital because of Covid, so that we can protect our health service and allow for non-Covid healthcare to restart safely.
“And finally, the all-important vaccine programme.”
He also urged people to be patient, promising that everyone who can be vaccinated will receive a vaccine.
Cabinet has agreed to extend Level 5 lockdown restrictions until April 5th, while schools will reopen on a phased basis from March 1st.
“This will involve the return of over 320,000 pupils,” said Mr Martin.
Junior and senior infants and first and second class in primary school will return on March 1st while Leaving Certificate classes will return in secondary school.
Childcare will also resume on a phased basis beginning with the State’s Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) preschool scheme on March 8th.
From March 29th other childcare facilities will be reopened.
On March 15th, the rest of classes in primary school will return while fifth year will also return in secondary school.
“It is critically important that we do not let our guard down.
“We are carefully and gradually reopening schools because we need to get our children back into education. This will represent a major relief for both pupils and hard pressed parents.”
Following the end of the Easter Holidays, April 12th, all secondary school students will return.
New Covid lockdown plan: Full details and key scho…
These dates will be subject to review as the Covid situation is monitored closely.
Plans to extend Covid-19 pandemic welfare supports, such as the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), until the end of June have also been approved.
“I know how hard this is, I know the toll it is taking on people’s mental health and wellbeing,” the Taoiseach said, urging people to keep showing solidarity with the “end in sight”.
“I know that we will get through this,” he concluded.