A former deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist Party has called on the Executive to help the Republic ramp up its Covid vaccination programme.
ord Kilclooney, a life peer who is no longer a member of the UUP, was speaking after it emerged that close to 25% of our population have received their first dose of a vaccine compared with less than 4% across the border.
Latest figures show that just over 468,000 people here have had their first jab and more than 31,000 have received their second.
However, in the Republic some 310,900 vaccines – 113,291 of them second jabs – have been administered, according to data up to February 20 compiled by the Irish Times.
In a tweet Lord Kilclooney said the Executive should ask the Irish Government how it could help increase its vaccination levels.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, he said: “Some 96% of the population in the Republic have not been vaccinated and we have freedom of movement on this island. So, it is important for the health of people in Northern Ireland also to help as many people get vaccinated as we can.
“It hasn’t dawned on anyone that I live near the border, so I am very conscious of this issue. I just hope [the Executive] investigates the possibility of assisting the Republic’s vaccination programme… but of course the decision at Stormont depends on the availability of extra vaccine doses, and I do not know whether we have that or not.”
SDLP’s health spokeswoman Cara Hunter said it had always advocated a whole-island approach to tackling the pandemic.
“There is no screen at the border that prevents transmission of the virus so it’s important that we work steadily to vaccinate everyone in Ireland,” she said.
“Closer coordination is clearly needed to eradicate the threat we’re facing. That should involve vaccination cooperation and a mass testing and tracing initiative to prevent recurrence.”
Alliance’s health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw said: “Alliance is already on record as being supportive in principle of the UK and Ireland working together to deliver completion of the vaccination programme as quickly as possible across the entire Common Travel Area.”
The vaccine rate in Britain is 25.4% for England, 25.7% for Scotland and 26.8% for Wales.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Micheal Martin has confirmed that the highest level of coronavirus restrictions will continue in the Republic until April 5 at least. He made the announcement in a live address outlining the revised Living With Covid plan.
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. Leaving Certificate students are also to return to the classroom next week.
The Taoiseach said the situation will be reviewed on April 5.
He said they aim 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.
Mr Martin said the Republic 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.