Taoiseach Micheál Martin has warned Fianna Fáil TDs, senators and MEPs that we cannot let down our Covid-19 guard.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has warned Fianna Fáil TDs, senators and MEPs that we cannot let down our Covid-19 guard.
Mr Martin said that easing of restrictions will be slow and measured and that public health advice will be the guiding principle.
Earlier, the Taoiseach said the B117 variant remains a concern and it is informing a conservative and cautious approach from Government on restrictions.
“There are 357 in hospital at the moment, that is still higher than at the peak of the second wave,” he told the Dáil.
He warned that if the country lets “the guard down too quickly” and this variant gets out of control again it will spread very rapidly.
He said that in the week leading into 5 April the current restrictions would be reviewed and Government would take advice from public health experts.
“We will then advise on what we believe is the best way forward for the following six weeks after that.”
The Taoiseach said Ireland is in line for an extra 46,500 vaccines before the end of March after the European Union announced four million additional doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine. 
The European Commission said the additional doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine are to be delivered this month in order to tackle coronavirus hotspots and to facilitate free border movement.
They will be distributed on a pro-rata basis.
Announcing the new doses this morning, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen accused AstraZeneca of not honouring its contract to supply doses to the EU. 
Asked by RTÉ News when vaccine deliveries would begin meeting their target, President von der Leyen said: “We have to differentiate between the different companies. BioNtech-Pfizer is delivering on their contract.
“They have made up all the difficulties at the very beginning and did an enormous additional effort. They started a new plant in Marburg, so they are delivering.”
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She added: “Moderna is also delivering. We are in intensive talks with AstraZeneca that is not honouring the contract so far. So here, AstraZeneca has to do an additional effort to deliver, mainly in Q1, what has been contracted. And of course also in the coming months.”
The Taoiseach told the Dáil that he has spoken to Pfizer to tell the company that Government would provide supports if it could manufacture vaccines at its plants in Ireland.
However, Micheál Martin said the company told him it had sufficient capacity at its central factory in Belgium.
He said that “in fairness to Pfizer” it has always met its targets.
Mr Martin also said that he had spoken to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson about accessing additional vaccines.
He said the prime minister said he would “love to help Ireland”, but he did not have surplus vaccines.
The Taoiseach also said he spoke to the German government, which said it would be using all its AstraZeneca products.
This evening, Mr Martin said the Government has in the past and will in the future “seek every avenue” to secure more Covid-19 vaccines.
He said he had raised the matter directly with EU Commissioner Thierry Breton regarding vaccination supply and had also engaged with the vaccine production companies.
Referencing Opposition criticism of Government actions, the Taoiseach warned that there are “lots of easy narratives on vaccines” currently but “there is no magic tree of vaccines out there”.
He praised the vaccination campaign today contending there is “a real gain with every vaccination” and that the incidence in nursing homes was down to less than 1%. 
He added the ongoing focus of Government, over the next number of weeks, is to continue to secure the suppression of the virus, support the economy and businesses, as well as maximise the vaccine roll-out.
The Taoiseach said there had been a “positive meeting” today with the hospitality sector regarding targeted supports and other matters.
However, the hospitality sector has expressed concern following a meeting today between Mr Martin, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister Catherine Martin. 
Concerns have been expressed in the industry about the timeline for the lifting of Covid restrictions and financial supports. 
The Restaurants Association of Ireland is calling for a doubling of the CRSS payments in order to “keep businesses alive”. 
It says it also needs a “re-opening plan” for hospitality, with metrics and targets with regards to vaccinations.
Important discussion at the Hospitality and Tourism Forum today with @LeoVaradkar and @cathmartingreen
The pandemic has brought huge challenges for many, but especially this sector.
This government will be there for businesses as we move closer to recovery.
— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) March 10, 2021
Separately, President von der Leyen defended the EU’s policy of negotiating vaccine contracts as a single bloc. 
“I would not want to know how it would look like today in Europe if there wouldn’t have been a common European approach … We were able to contract with the six most successful companies that delivered vaccines out of a number of more than 100 others.
“How would it look like in Europe if everyone would have gone on its own? We would have a few, four to five member states that would have access to vaccines – it’s the big member states – and all the rest would have no access to vaccines.
“Secondly, we would not be safe, because if there’s a different vaccination rhythm, [where] some member states have vaccines, other member states have no vaccines, the spread of the virus would even be intensified and the risk of a mutant [strain] even higher.
“So important is to do our best to stick together and to increase all efforts.”
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President von der Leyen said that after a difficult start more than 60 million doses had been delivered so far. 
She said that mortality rates were decreasing because of the vaccination of the elderly, but infection rates were not decreasing. 
The extra four million doses had been negotiated with BioNtech-Pfizer in order to tackle new variants and Covid hotspots.
She added: “Accordingly, because of the more infectious variants we see, and we are mainly worried about new emerging hotspots where infection rates even rise despite tough measures that have been taken, we see the reintroduction of border controls that has a negative impact on cross border workers, or, for example, the flow of goods across borders.
“This is why the commission negotiated an additional 4 million doses of BioNtech-Pfizer vaccines for March for the first quarter.
“This comes on top of the actual delivery scheduled and we choose Biotech Pfizer because this vaccine has proven effective against all known mutants.”
In a statement, Pfizer said: “Our flexible, just-in-time distribution system has helped ensure we can effectively support the European pandemic response, and we have been able to accelerate deliveries in the short term, under our existing agreement.
“We have committed to delivering 500 million doses to the EU in 2021, with quantities increasing every month, including a tripling of doses in Q2 compared to Q1. We know the Covid-19 crisis is far from over, and we will continue to move at the speed of science to bring it under control.”
Latest figures show that as of 7 March, 525,768 doses have been administered in Ireland to residents and staff at long-term residential care facilities, to frontline healthcare workers and to people aged over 70 years.
Currently, 95% of available vaccines are being administered within seven days of arrival in the country.
Vaccine delay won’t stop easing of restrictions – Tánaiste
Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said a delay in vaccine delivery will not prevent the easing of restrictions on 5 April.
“The delay in the vaccine deliveries won’t prevent us from easing restrictions on the 5th April, but we only ever intend to do some very modest easing anyway,” he said.
Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Mr Varadkar said the Government has been “open, frank and upfront” with people in relation to the delivery of vaccine supplies and despite slippage on timelines, “we are making good progress”.
He described the delay in deliveries as very frustrating and “undermines competence”, but said that the delivery schedule is out of the Government’s control and plans have to be adjusted all the time.
He said the Government has worked to secure additional supplies and is in direct contact with pharmaceutical companies with a significant presence in Ireland, which, he said “are doing all they can for us”. 
Mr Varadkar said there is State aid available if these companies want to produce vaccines in Ireland. 
The Tánaiste said it remains the case that construction work, the 5km rule, and outdoor activities would be considered as part of the easing of restrictions next month. 
He also said that “click and collect” could be considered for April, but the reopening of non-essential retail will not be considered at this time.
Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said the Minister for Health needs to “get his act together” and to do everything in his power to try to source more vaccines.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, he said the supply of vaccines to GPs continues to be disrupted.
Mr Doherty said Sinn Féin is not suggesting the Government acquires vaccines not approved by the European Medicines Agency, but that Germany and other countries have bought additional supplies that other EU countries did not need.
He said the Government needs to sit down with the British government and “get a hold” of surplus vaccines the UK will have.
Deputy Doherty said he accepts there is no silver bullet about vaccine supply but more can and should be done, adding that “this is a race against the clock and we want to vaccinate people to keep them safe and prevent them from dying”.
Additional reporting Tony Connelly