Despite the roll-out of vaccines for the elderly, we are not out of the woods yet, Dr Cillian De Gascun has warned.
Speaking on RTÉ One’s ‘Claire Byrne Live’, the chair of Nphet's Covid Expert Advisory Group said the level of Covid infection still remains high.
And he cautioned that even if two people have been vaccinated there is still a slight chance they could contract the virus from each other.
And because the vast majority of the population remains unvaccinated, we must still remain cautious and vigilant, he warned.
Asked if elderly people can finally let down their guard once they have been vaccinated, he said: “We’re still at a stage where a very small proportion of the population will have been vaccinated and obviously very high levels of the virus is still circulating in the community.
"So while we’ve done very well over the last six to eight weeks our 14-day incidence rate is still greater than 200 – it was below three back in the summer.”
As for the easing of restrictions in the foreseeable future, he said: “We need to get the balance right between easing restrictions when it’s safe to do so. But at the moment our priority has to be to get down the level of virus in the community.”
He also said that the jury is still out over whether the vaccines will provide total protection from either spreading or acquiring the virus.
"We don’t yet know that they protect completely against people acquiring the infection or transmitting the infection."
While he praised the rollout of the vaccine to the elderly and healthcare workers, he said “the paradox then is that we’ll have a large cohort of vulnerable people in the population who are under 70 and will not have been exposed to the virus.
"The vaccines are good but the key thing is we need to be patient and allow the vaccine to be rolled out.
"As the population level of community protection increases then we can start to ease restrictions,” he said.
However, he said because of the vaccine, the return to easing of restrictions may be done faster than earlier on in the pandemic.