There is “increased concern” over the Covid-19 Delta variant in Ireland, despite case numbers being stable in the country, the Tánaiste has said.
Leo Varadkar also told the Fine Gael parliamentary party the rising numbers of the variant in the UK were “worrying”.
Party members heard that “nothing had been decided yet” when it comes to the further reopening of society next month.
It comes as the Department of Health confirmed 348 more cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.
There were 41 people with the virus in hospital on Wednesday evening, 13 of whom were in intensive care units.
Earlier, Mr Varadkar admitted the rise in Covid-19 variant cases was “the dark cloud on the horizon” for the planned easing of restrictions next month.
The Fine Gael leader said the Government will not be able to make a “final call” on the reopening of the economy until it receives updated data and advice from public health officials about the Delta variant next week.
Indications show that one in five new cases of coronavirus detected in the past seven days are the Delta variant, which was first identified in India.
As of midnight, Monday 21st June, we are reporting 294* confirmed cases of #COVID19.
13 in ICU. 39 in hospital.
*Daily case numbers may change due to future data review, validation and update.
— Department of Health (@roinnslainte) June 22, 2021
Mr Varadkar said: “As things stand, the plan is still to ease restrictions on the 5th of July.
“But, as is always the case, that final call, that decision won’t be made until a few days before.
“We’ll take into account four factors.
“One is the number of cases, which is falling, that’s encouraging. Another is hospitals — hospital numbers are going down, which is encouraging.
“Third is the vaccine programme, which is going very well, but we’d like to see those second doses given to people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“The fourth is the concern around the variants, and that’s the dark cloud on the horizon at the moment.”
Exports from @Entirl companies grew last year despite unprecedented challenges with #Brexit and #Covid19. Testament to the strength and adaptability of Irish business. Will continue to help those struggling get back on their feet pic.twitter.com/Ztpypa7T3xAdvertisement
— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) June 23, 2021
Speaking in Dublin at an Enterprise Ireland event, the Tánaiste said he understands people need clarity but that, when it comes to the pandemic, the Government can only give an indication.
He admitted it is “not satisfactory”, especially for businesses trying to plan.
“I totally get how horrible this uncertainty is, but it’s an uncertain environment and that’s the truth of it,” he said.
Discussing the vaccination programme, Mr Varadkar said Ireland will have a surplus of AstraZeneca vaccines in the coming weeks, and it would be a “shame” not to use them.
He confirmed that the Government will give the “green light” to offering AstraZeneca jabs to over-18s, if the National Immunisation Advisory Committee and the European Medicines Agency give the go-ahead.
“We may, over the course of the next couple of weeks, have hundreds of thousands of excess AstraZeneca vaccines and it would be a shame not to use them,” he said.
Today we’re inviting people aged 36 to register for their #COVIDVaccine. You'll need the following to register online:
Register: https://t.co/nTNxEJWWWr #ForUsAll pic.twitter.com/pVE65qCYWj
— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) June 23, 2021
“We are engaging with the health authorities, with the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, regarding whether we could offer those excess vaccines to people in the younger cohort. At least giving them some protection soon rather than having to wait.”
The Tánaiste confirmed that only a small number of one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines are being used because of a delay in the delivery of 600,000 doses.
It is not yet known when these will arrive in the country.
“Giving people vaccines that we have, to give them some protection, might be a better option than saying ‘You’ve no protection now, you’ll have to wait till later’,” Mr Varadkar added.
Brian MacCraith, chair of the High Level Task Force on Covid-19, said that Wednesday was the peak of the vaccination programme in Ireland.
Mr MacCraith said that 370,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines arrived into Ireland.
Of these, 317,100 were Pfizer; 14,000 were Janssen; and 38,400 were Moderna.
He added that over the next two weeks, the three largest deliveries of the programme will arrive from Pfizer with 317,000 vaccines and 318,000 and 300,000 AstraZeneca doses.
Some good examples of how well the vaccines and sticking with public health measures are protecting people from Covid - daily age-specific incidence rates. pic.twitter.com/b78L279xHsAdvertisement
— Stephen Donnelly (@DonnellyStephen) June 22, 2021
On Wednesday morning Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said it was “too early” to confirm whether the Government will proceed with the lifting of restrictions next month, saying he is “concerned” about the rising number of cases associated with the Delta variant.
He told RTÉ Morning Ireland: “There are two very different things going on here.
“The epidemiological situation in the country other than Delta is very positive.
“The number of cases is continuing to fall. We’re seeing phenomenal results in terms of the protection afforded by the vaccines, and the numbers in hospital and ICU are now very, very low.
“The age groups, except the 19 to 24-year-olds, are falling, whether they’re vaccinated or not.
“The domestic situation has been going well, people have been doing the right thing, the vaccine programme has been working well, and the security measures in terms of international travel have been good.
“The concern I have is that we are now surrounded by the Delta variant. Essentially, while there are ranges to these things, we know it’s significantly more contagious.”
— HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) (@hpscireland) June 21, 2021
The Cabinet is to decide next Thursday whether it will give the green light for the reopening of indoor hospitality.