Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has said there "are reasons for real hope" that the country can reach a point where an easing of restrictions can be recommended to Government.

Dr Holohan said the National Public Health Emergency Team would observe data on a small increase in Covid-19 cases ahead of making recommendations to Government on the further easing of Level 5 restrictions.

However, at this evening's NPHET briefing, he said Ireland was not where it needed to be in relation to the roll-out of the national vaccination programme.

It comes as the Department of Health was notified that a further ten people have died with Covid-19 and 617 new cases have been confirmed. The number of people in ICU is 48, up one from yesterday.

This morning, there were 176 people with the virus in hospital.

Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group described the Covid-19 situation in Ireland as "volatile" and "vulnerable".

He said while he has presented a "broadly positive outlook", he said the population remains "vulnerable" over the coming weeks because they are not protected by vaccination.

Prof Nolan said any increase in close contacts or mixing "represents a high risk".

He said there has been a "small spike in cases" ten days after the relaxation of measures on 12 April, adding that all indicators of disease showed steady progress, up until 21 April.

Prof Nolan said the seven-day average case count over the last three weeks has gone down from 500 to 400 to 372.

The 14-day incidence, was 113 per 100,000 yesterday, "the lowest has been for some considerable period of time," Prof Nolan said.

"It's up a little bit today with that higher case count of 118 per 100,000 people," he added.

At this evening's briefing, it was announced that from 4 May nursing home residents in centres where a majority are fully vaccinated can have four weekly visits with two people.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said that in relation to high incidence rates in Donegal, Offaly, Kildare and Dublin, there are some workplace outbreaks in those areas.

He said there are also outbreaks associated with household mixing, birthday parties and funerals.

Dr Glynn said there has been an increase following the Easter break in people going into work, adding that about two out of three people have returned to the workplace.

He urged employers to allow people to work from home if possible.


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Separately, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said if the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is not approved by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) for use in people aged under 60 that it would make it "virtually impossible" to meet the target of vaccinating 80% adults by the end of June.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, Mr Varadkar said that it would mean that there are four vaccines for over 60s and two for those under 60.

He said that such a recommendation would "knock 600,000 [doses] off the plan".

Mr Varadkar said that he estimates that the 80% target would then be pushed back by "two to three weeks".

He said that such a delay would "possibly but not necessarily" delay a reopening of the country.

Mr Varadkar said that the vaccine roll-out is just one factor considered, when it comes to deciding if restrictions could be eased.

He also warned that case numbers have increased slightly in the past few days.

NIAC is not expected to issue a recommendation on the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine until early next week.

The committee members are involved in several international meetings relating to the jab and NIAC will wait until after those meetings to issue its findings.

The committee met today to consider what advice to issue about the use of the J&J jab.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) this week said the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks of unusual blood clotting events as a very rare side effect.

Last week, NIAC advised that an alternative vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca should not be administered to anyone under the age of 60 in Ireland because of links to similar very rare blood clotting events.

NIAC also met on three separate days less than two weeks ago before formulating its advice on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

That came after the EMA said people needed to be informed of a very rare risk of an unusual type of blood clot.

The advice on that last occasion was not to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to under-60s as there was a plentiful supply of alternative mRNA vaccines available.

Mr Varadkar said the Government will rely on the NIAC advice, but said it would be a shame to have hundreds of thousands of vaccines and be unable to use them.

He said technically all four licensed vaccines could now be used for over-60s, but that it is the under-60s he is concerned about.

Ireland has almost 15,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in cold storage and is due to receive another 590,000 before the end of June.

Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said that, if approved, the use of the J&J jab for the over-50s would help to keep the vaccine delivery programme on target.

Mr Ryan said it is his hope that NIAC will afford the same flexibility to the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as it did with the Astrazeneca jab.

He told RTÉ's Morning Ireland that, if approved for use in the over-50s, 600,000 doses of the J&J vaccine would be administered by June and this would would help to "meet targets and save lives".

Meanwhile, Minister Ryan said that it will be a number of months before international travel resumes, saying that Ireland needs to make a "gradual way out" of restrictions and manage Covid-19.

He said that he will meet the airlines and that the Government wants to avoid another "stop/start" situation and another lockdown.

Minister Ryan said plans to allow people who have been vaccinated to avoid hotel quarantine will help with the easing of travel restrictions, but the exact date of a wider opening up of travel has yet to be determined.

In Northern Ireland, a further three coronavirus deaths and 120 new cases were reported during the past 24 hours.

There were 62 confirmed Covid patients in hospital, with seven in ICU, five of whom are on ventilators.

The average seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 is 40.5.

The council area with the highest rate remains Derry and Strabane on 110.2, while the lowest remains Ards and North Down on 18.6.

European Union hopes to finish work on green certs in June - Byrne

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs Thomas Byrne earlier said he is advising people not to book holidays abroad for the summer months, saying it is "too uncertain".

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, he said a step-by-step process to reopening international travel is under way as he spoke about the work being done on digital green certs.

"What is happening at European level is the digital green certificate is being rushed through the legislative there and the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers and is hoped in June they will begin to be issued," he said.

Mr Byrne said he is part of the council here (General Affairs Council) working on the green certs.

He described how the green certs will be paper or digital with three certificates included on it; a vaccination cert, a test cert, and a cert of recovery.

The minister said the first two certs will be "relatively easy" but acknowledged possible issues with the recovery cert and it might require technical work to be done.

"That is being worked on," he said.

He said the European Union hopes to finish the work on the certs in June and by mid-July he said it is hoped they will "be in force" in Ireland.

Additional reporting George Lee