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Covid restrictions Cabinet agree new lockdown measures to keep schools closed and halt construction until January 31

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin is due to make an announcement. Photo: Julien Behal

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is due to make an announcement. Photo: Julien Behal

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is due to make an announcement. Photo: Julien Behal

The Cabinet has signed off on new lockdown measures which will see schools closed and construction halted until at least the end of the month.

The new Covid-19 restrictions aimed at reducing the movement of people around the country include closing primary and secondary schools until January 31.

However, Leaving Cert students will be asked to return to school next Monday for three days of classes a week.

Non-essential construction will be stopped from Friday at 6pm.

However, essential work on health projects, schools and social housing will continue.

Childcare services will only be available to the children of essential workers and vulnerable children. Essential workers will be permitted to form ‘bubbles’ with other households to facilitate childcare.

Non-essential retailers will be asked to suspend click and collect services.

Education Minister Norma Foley recommended that Leaving Cert students return to school on Monday at the Cabinet meeting today.

The recommendation is that Leaving Cert students will return to classes for three days per week from January 11.

The majority of primary and secondary schools are to close until January 31.

However, Ms Foley told Cabinet colleagues that Leaving Cert students should remain in school for the rest of the month.

The Department of Education has invited the education partners, including teacher unions and school management bodies, to a briefing this afternoon.

Ms Foley and Taoiseach Micheál Martin are determined to ensure the Leaving Cert goes ahead as normal this summer.

Last year, exams were cancelled and teachers were forced to grade students on their past performances.

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There is also concern in government that Leaving Cert students missed out on a significant amount fifth year classes last year.

“The minister is strongly recommending Leaving Cert students are back in school on Monday,” a Government source said.

There are also discussions on going about ensuring special schools can remain open to ensure that students who attend these classes are not negatively impacted by the lockdown.

Meanwhile, childcare services, including regulated childminders can continue for the children of essential workers and vulnerable children only.

Other existing childcare arrangements for these groups can also continue.

Essential workers can also form ‘bubbles’ with another household for the purpose of minding children.

Youth outreach services are also to remain open during the lockdown.

In a statement this afternoon, the Taoiseach said that "already exhausted healthcare workers" are now facing a "tsunami of infections" worse than the first wave, and it is this reason why further restrictions must be rolled out.

"As of now 3,679 people across our island have lost their lives to the disease. Hospitals across this island and continent are under siege from the disease," Mr Martin said.

The Taoiseach says we now have an even more infectious variant of coronavirus in our midst, pointing out UK research indicates the new strain of Covid-19 increases the R number between 0.4 and 0.7. "This can lead to growth way beyond worst case scenarios."

Mr Martin said Ireland is "in a battle with a deadly and ever-changing virus" and if the people of Ireland don't face the next few months with determination and a steely resolve, "unfortunately many more people will die".

"The lockdown we are introducing today is due to this stark reality. Unless you are engaging in essential work, you have no reason to be away from your home and you simply must stay at home.

The Taoiseach confirmed all schools must remain closed with teaching to move online, with two exemptions: special education schools should remain open and Leaving Cert students should attend school three days a week from January 11.

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