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Health Minister Donnelly says there is ‘no fixed date’ for school returns

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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The Minister for Health has said there is “no fixed date” for the return of schools.

Discussions are ongoing between the Department of Education and teachers’ unions about holding the Leaving Cert and bringing students back to classrooms.

The ASTI returned to the table this weekend after threatening to walk away in a move that spelled chaos for reopening plans.

But Stephen Donnelly was unable to provide an answer when asked when schools would return.

He told RTE’s This Week: “We don’t have that yet.

“I know Minister (Norma) Foley is involved in intensive talks and confidential talks with the stakeholders.

“It’s great that the special schools have reopened on a phased basis, it’s great that we’re going to see the special classes in mainstream schools opening up again from Monday week, from February 22.

“Obviously we need to get the Leaving Cert students back as quickly as possible, but my understanding is that there are no fixed dates as of yet.”

The Minister also said he has been “very taken aback” by reports that some GPs are refusing to administer the coronavirus vaccine.

He said he was concerned about reports that some of those are also refusing to provide information to patients on GPs who will provide vaccinations.

He urged anyone who finds themselves in that situation to calls the HSE live line, which will direct them on where to get vaccinated.

He added: “My view is GPs who don’t want to vaccinate themselves, so be it.

“I’m very surprised by that.

“Certainly the vast, vast majority of healthcare workers around the country have been, not only getting vaccinated, but very much demanding that they get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

“I don’t believe anyone in the country should be denied a vaccination by their GP, I don’t think it’s acceptable behaviour at all.”

Minister Donnelly was also unable to provide clarity on when lockdown restrictions will end.

The current set of restrictions are up for review on March 5, but the Government has played down the prospect of any widespread reopening.

The Cabinet is due to agree a revision to the Living with Covid roadmap in the week of February 22.

Asked how long Level Five restrictions will continue, Mr Donnelly replied: “I think that’s the six million dollar question.

“I would love to have an accurate answer, as would Government, as would Nphet.”

He said the uncertainty over the impact of vaccines on transmissibility of the virus, and the threat of new variants, made it “very difficult for anyone, including our experts in our modelling teams, to say exactly how long it’s going to take”.

He said the Covid numbers need to come down “much more” before society can reopen.

“The results just in for Ireland at the moment, they’re mixed.

“Steady progress is being made.

“We’re about mid table in Europe at the moment.

“Thanks to everyone sticking with Level Five, we’ve got the biggest fall in Europe at the moment in our 14-day rate.”

But he said there are concerns that the number of close contacts are increasing, positivity rates remain high and the percentage of new cases in Dublin are rising.

“So it’s far too early, unfortunately, given all of that, to be able to give accurate predictions as to when we can exit Level Five,” he said.

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