Ireland is on track to lift coronavirus restrictions from May 4, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.
The Tánaiste also said that 80% of the population will have had their first dose of Covid vaccine, or have been offered it, by the end of June.
He said the Government will sit down at the end of April to develop a reopening plan for the months of May, June and July.
The Government is planning for more outdoor activities, a phased reopening of retail and the return of personal services such as hairdressers on a staggered basis next month.
He said: “For the first time this year, the number of people in hospitals is below 200 and the number in ICU below 50.
“We are on track, we’re on track both to ease restrictions as planned from May 4, and to have over 80% of people receiving their first vaccine by the end of June.”
Asked if he is sure about the June vaccination target given the issues with the rollout to date, Mr Varadkar replied: “They’ll have it in their arm or they’ll certainly have been offered it at that stage. It’s as solid as it can be.”
Mr Varadkar told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland the situation is “looking good”, but that things can still go wrong.
He said reopening will depend on four key indicators: “vaccines, variants, case numbers and the state of our hospitals”.
He said: “What we’ll do in about two weeks’ time at the end of April, is we’ll sit down and develop the plan for May.
“What we’re planning is allowing more outdoor activities, a phase reopening of retail and personal services.
“What we’ll also do at the end of April, that’s not far away now, we’ll develop the plan for June and July.”
Mr Varadkar also said that people will not be allowed to choose which vaccine they receive.
It comes after a recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee that the AstraZeneca vaccine is only given to people over the age of 60.
Mr Varadkar said the advice should not undermine confidence in the safety of the vaccine.
He said: “The best option is the vaccine that’s offered to you. All the vaccines are effective and they’re safe for the age groups they’re indicated for.” He said if a person refuses to have the AstraZeneca jab, they will have to “wait until the end” of the rollout to be given a vaccine.
“It’s not possible to know when the end would be, but it wouldn’t be June or July, it would be later than that” he added.
The HSE launched a new online vaccines portal where people can register for the inoculations on Thursday. It is currently open to people aged between 65 and 69.
The Government has said it is examining extending the intervals between the two doses of AstraZeneca to speed up the vaccine programme, as has been done in the UK.
Studies have shown people are still given high levels of immunity, over 80%, from a single dose.
But Mr Varadkar said on Thursday that people who have already received their first dose will still get their second as planned.
“We’re not going to change it for them,” he said. “They’ve even been given the date at this stage, and they’re also the people who are generally the highest risk, so it makes sense to fully protect them.”
He said that if longer intervals between doses are introduced, it will only be for younger people who do not have any medical vulnerabilities.