Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn has urged people to do all they can to keep Covid-19 under control for the next six to eight weeks and minimise the introduction of variants.
He told an Oireachtas Committee on Health that the National Public Health Emergency Team would set out a plan for the next six to eight weeks in terms of easing restrictions.
He said this could include resuming 'click-and-collect', non-essential retail and a further easing of outdoors sports and training, as well as outdoor businesses.
Dr Glynn also ruled out offering a choice of vaccines to those hesitant about taking the AstraZeneca jab.
On changes to the roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine, he said the approach taken is conservative and there could have been an earlier age cut-off rather than 60.
Following calls in the US to pause the roll-out of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Dr Glynn told the committee that he will be liaising with the Health Protection Regulatory Authority later, adding that the European Medicines Agency is aware of the issue and is monitoring the situation.
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'We have more reasons to be hopeful now than at any time in the pandemic to date,' Deputy CMO Dr Ronan Glynn has said.— RTÉ News (@rtenews) April 13, 2021
However he warned there is a 'considerable risk' of a further wave of infection if measures are eased too quickly | Read more: https://t.co/18OT3dF7PE pic.twitter.com/XJFHWXgeeC
In response to a question from Fianna Fáil TD John Lahart, who asked why fully vaccinated people have to go into mandatory hotel quarantine, Dr Glynn said it was still not entirely clear what impact vaccines have on transmission and different vaccines can have different impacts.
He said there were increasing reports internationally of clusters in people who are fully vaccinated, particularly of the variant first detected in South Africa.
Dr Glynn also said there was the question of the length of immunity and of vaccine certification.
He added that mandatory hotel quarantine is a key part of the response in the short term and hopefully there would be a rapidly improving situation across Europe.
In his opening statement, Dr Glynn said: "We have more reasons to be hopeful now than at any time in the pandemic to date."
He said that as of Saturday, 19% of the adult population has had at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and 8%, including those most vulnerable, are fully vaccinated.
Dr Glynn said there has been good progress in the trajectory of disease and that up to midnight on 11 April the 14-day incidence has decreased to 132 per 100,000 of population, a reduction of 15% from the previous week.
He said the five-day moving average of new cases decreased to 404, a reduction of 23% from the previous week and the case numbers reported on Sunday were the lowest since mid-December.
Dr Glynn said that while there has been good progress, there is still a high level of infection and the country is dealing with a much more transmissible virus than last year.
He said Ireland remains at considerable risk of further waves of infection if public health measures are eased too quickly.
But, he said, models show that further waves of infection will be substantially mitigated if levels of social contacts remain largely unchanged over the next six weeks.
Dr Glynn said that the priority must be on maintaining control over the disease until vaccination can offer a widespread population level of protection.
He said NPHET's advice to the Government continues to recommend a cautious approach and any further easing of measures should be gradual and phased and allow adequate time between phases to assess the impact.
Asked whether annual vaccinations may be needed, Dr Glynn said that was an open question at the moment but a booster programme may be needed next autumn or winter.
Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe asked about the prospects for bars and restaurants and Dr Glynn said the plan set out at the end of this month would consider hospitality over May, June, and July.
He said NPHET did have a concern around alcohol in context of a global pandemic as people drop their guard and were less likely to social distance.
"It's not an easy message. We all want to go to the pub but we're not there yet," he said.
On whether digital green certificates could allow international holidays this year, Dr Glynn said there was too much uncertainty around the EU situation.
He said NPHET hoped for a very open and good summer this year with the focus on hospitality and travel within this country. He said he could not rule out another lockdown, but NPHET was not predicting one and does not want to go backwards.
The key point in whatever measures are eased is to keep the focus on outdoor activities and any indoor ones must be controlled and avoid superspreader events.
Dr Glynn said that given the current incidence, it would only take a few superspreader events to get the country into trouble.