A delay in the delivery of the AstraZeneca jab will not impact Ireland’s plans to ramp up its vaccination programme, the Taoiseach has said.

Micheal Martin announced new plans for the programme with the aim to have administered first doses to 80% of adults by the end of June.

It came as he announced Level 5 restrictions will remain in place until April 5 at last, although a phased reopening of schools will start from next week.

Prior to Mr Martin’s address to the nation, AstraZeneca said it will deliver half of the expected delivery of vaccine doses to the EU in the second quarter of the year.

The Taoiseach said this announcement has been factored in to the forecasts in his speech.

By Tuesday, more than 350,000 vaccine doses had been administered.

The Government aims to have administered first doses to 40% of people over the age of 18 by the end of April, 64% by the end of May and up to 82% of adults by the end of June.

This will include utilising small local GP surgeries and pharmacists, and community and regional vaccination centres.

“We are implementing a programme of vaccination on a scale that is unprecedented in the country’s history,” Mr Martin said.

“By the end of March, we will have administered 1.25 million doses, then depending on vaccines arriving as scheduled, we would administer on average more than one million doses per month during April, May and June.”

Level 5 measures are to remain in place until after Easter.

The plan includes the phased reopening of schools and childcare, with some pupils set to return to the classroom on March 1.

Junior and senior infants, as well as first and second class in primary schools, will be among the first back to school.

Leaving Certificate students are also to return to the classroom next week.

The reopening of childcare starts from March 8 as well as the resumption of some non-Covid related health services.

The Taoiseach said the situation will be reviewed on April 5.

Mr Martin said Ireland is “driving down the levels of infection”, but said the emergence of the UK variant had made the situation very different to what it was several months ago.

The B117 variant now accounts for 90% of new infections in Ireland.

“The truth is that it has changed the dynamic significantly and we need to be very careful as we take the next steps forward,” he said.

Depending on the state of the pandemic at the April 5 review date, there is potential for relaxations around outdoor gatherings, some sporting activities, the gradual reopening of construction and the 5k limit on non-essential journeys.

Mr Martin said it is “critically important” that people do not let their guard down.

“When we open things, we want them to stay open, that is why I cannot overemphasise the importance of continued observance of Level 5 restrictions,” he said.

All those working from home must continue to do so.

“We want to reopen society as soon and as safely as possible, so if we can maintain downward pressure on the disease and keep our numbers low, we will then move into the next phase,” he said.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin during a joint press conference at Government Buildings in Dublin
Taoiseach Micheal Martin during a joint press conference at Government Buildings in Dublin (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Rival parties have criticised the Government for not publishing a detailed plan to exit lockdown safely.

The Taoiseach said it would be “disingenuous” to give specific timelines for the wider reopening of society.

He said because of the new variants and high levels of community transmission, “we’re simply not in a position to do that”.

More detailed announcements will follow on April 5, he added.

A further 45 deaths of patients who tested positive for coronavirus in Ireland were announced on Tuesday, along with a further 575 confirmed cases of the virus.