A PUBLIC health expert has predicted that restrictions on large gatherings will remain in Ireland for at least the next six months.
Dr Ronan Glynn, Ireland's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, was speaking yesterday at a health briefing in which 821 new cases of the virus were announced.
For the first time this year, there were no new deaths announced, a positive milestone in Ireland's battle against the disease-- but as Dr Glynn explained, the country is far from a return to normality.
The Deputy CMO said that significant restrictions will likely remain in place in Ireland for a long period of time, saying "I don't see a scenario where we are not asking people to wear face masks, to keep physical distance, to avoid crowds, to avoid poorly ventilated spaces over the next six months".
While the vaccines give some hope in the fight against the pandemic, the reality is "we need to wait between 7-14 days for them to achieve full protection [after two doses], and on top of that, we need to really see where we go with the disease more broadly".
As of Friday 12 February, there have been 265,237 doses of Covid-19 vaccine administered in Ireland: 175,238 people have received their first dose, and 89,999 people have received their second dose.
Priority has been given to healthcare workers and nursing home residents, and GPs will soon begin administering inoculations to people over the age of 85, but restrictions will have to remain for wider society.
Dr Glynn also said that with the commencement of vaccination of people aged over 85 in the community, "today marks a significant milestone as we seek to protect the most vulnerable from this pandemic.
"It is an extraordinary testament to science that less than one year since our first confirmed case in Ireland, we are now in the process of rolling out three effective vaccines.
"The challenge now is to continue to suppress this disease so that as many people as possible can benefit from these vaccines over the coming months."
Ireland is currently under Level 5 restrictions, effectively a total lockdown, with schools and non-essential shops closed and household visits banned.
Dr Glynn's glum predictions echoes those of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who told reporters last week that summer 2021 would likely be “similar to last summer” with “hotels and restaurants open”, but “mass gatherings” like theatres and concerts, not returning for the foreseeable future.
Mr Varadkar also struck an optimistic but cautious tone last week when he told reporters he expected "every adult" to receive a vaccine "by September", and that he anticipated a large boost vaccinations per week – which should reach of a quarter of a million by April.