Schools and childcare will reopen on a phased basis next month after Ireland’s health experts gave the green light to Government, the Tanaiste has said.
Advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) was that pupils could return to classrooms during March and through to the Easter break.
Leo Varadkar sounded a warning that the reopening of any other parts of society or the economy could jeopardise the reopening of the education sector.
He appealed to the public to “dig deep” for a few more weeks.
Right now, people most at risk are being offered COVID-19 vaccines first. #CovidVaccines will be offered to the next groups as soon as possible. For updates on the vaccines roll-out visit: https://t.co/VhEiKBNPkP #HoldFirm pic.twitter.com/bS3HDeCFE6— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) February 19, 2021
“We are on the right track again – cases, hospitalisations, ICUs numbers are all falling,” he told RTE News At One.
“But they’re still high, they’re almost as high as they were at the peak of the first wave and that’s why we need to proceed with caution, particularly with the B117 variant dominant in the country.
“We got advice from Nphet yesterday – their advice is we can open schools and childcare on a phased basis over the course of March and through to the Easter break.
“We are asking people to dig deep for a few more weeks.
“We will see three really good things in March, first is the return of kids to school and childcare all across Ireland, the second is the vaccine programme being ramped up.”
He said that 80,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines were administered this week, with a further 100,000 doses expected next week.
Mr Varadkar added that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) said that Government can now prioritise some of the under 70s group who have underlying medical conditions.
“We are also going to see hospitals relieved of pressure throughout the course of March,” he added.
Mr Varadkar also denied that Taoiseach Micheal Martin said that Level 5 restrictions would last until May.
Mr Martin told the Irish Mirror in an interview on Thursday that “severe” lockdown measures will be in place until the end of April.
Mr Martin said the reopening of pubs restaurants, as well as hairdressers may be pushed further into the year.
Mr Varadkar said on Friday: “What the Taoiseach said last night is that we are facing into tough restrictions into April and that’s correct.
“He didn’t say that we will have Level 5 lockdown for nine weeks or that it’s going to go on until May.”
Mr Varadkar also denied there was a communications problem within the tripartite Government.
“I think we have three government parties who are working very closely together and working better together than ever before, but what we are doing a lot of the time is communicating bad news and that can be difficult,” Mr Varadkar added.
“There is hope on the horizon and we are asking people to stick with us and dig deep.”
Taoiseach's casual, flippant announcement of a further nine weeks of lockdown has caused anger and distress. People's lives have been turned upside down. Govt internal rivalry, leaks and dithering adds stress upon stress. #COVID19 #COVID #level5— Mary Lou McDonald (@MaryLouMcDonald) February 19, 2021
The Taoiseach also warned that there will be few changes when the Government announces the revised Living With Covid-19 plan next week.
Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty said his party will back the public health advice.
However, he was critical of the Taoiseach’s decision to make the announcement about ongoing restrictions to the newspaper on Thursday.
“It’s not the way to communicate with people who are making huge sacrifices right across the State,” Mr Doherty added.
“I think it comes as a hammer blow to people, it sucks the life out of them to be communicated in that way, to see a headline that we’re in for another nine weeks of restrictions.
“We have seen the extension of restrictions in the North by the Executive, and this is an opportunity to be in sync on an all-island basis and I think it’s really important that we do this in step together as much as possible across the island of Ireland.”