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lockdown latest 'High level of restrictions' to continue until April at the earliest, Taoiseach says

Mr Martin said proceeding with caution is the “right thing to do."

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Micheál Martin

Micheál Martin

Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said “high level of restrictions” will continue until at least early April.

While the Level five lockdown is likely to continue until Easter, the Taoiseach said the focus over the coming weeks will be on reopening schools and the construction sector.

And while vaccines are being rolled out over the coming months, Mr Martin said it was the “right thing to do” to proceed with caution, although the country will be in a better position with each passing month.

He added that in there will be greater clarity on the plans in two weeks.

“Oobviously we’ll take stock over the next two weeks in terms of how the virus is evolving,” Mr Martin said.

“But I think, given that we have a vaccination rollout and that every month that goes by we significantly reduce mortality and possibility of mortality in severe illness, it makes sense that we would be cautious and that we are conservative in any reopening of society.”

In terms of the construction industry Mr Martin said that Government believes that “we can facilitate a phased reopening of construction and increase reopening of construction from March 5.

“We do obviously have issues in terms of the need to significantly increase the number of houses that will be completed in 2021 because over the medium term we need to be building certainly up to 25,000 to 30,000 per annum, if we were to really significantly improve the situation for young people, and for people more generally, in accessing housing.”

On the reopening of schools the Taoiseach said the return of special needs education “is important”.

“I think that we need to give confidence to the wider school community,” he added. “I also believe that the next priority has to be the Leaving Certificate cohort. We need to bring clarity to Leaving Certificate students in respect of this year’s Leading Certificate.

“There have been constructive talks underway between the minister and the Department of Education and all of the partners in education (on) Leaving Certificate students coming back to school sooner rather than later.

“I think classroom time will be very, very important in facilitating options for Leaving Certificate students in the context of a written exam for example.”

Speaking earlier on Newstalk Breakfast, the head of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) said she was hopeful Leaving Certificate students can return to classroom before St Patrick's Day.

"We are planning a phased return and we are now looking at when it will be safe for Leaving Certs to return to the classroom,” Ann Piggott said.

"I'm not sure when, we don't have a date set - but we expect it will be in the next few weeks.”

When asked about bringing Leaving Cert students back by the week of February 22, Ms Piggott said: "I don't think the 22nd itself is realistic.

"The numbers were going down, we were quite happy when it was 556 the other day, and then again it was 1,006 yesterday - that is very high.

"We're coming out of a lockdown, we certainly don't want another lockdown in April again - we would like the numbers to go down more".

However, Mr Martin said getting Leaving Certificate students back on February 22 was a “reasonable timeframe”.

“Given that special education is returning, and given that we're looking at about 60,000 students, in my view, that's manageable and it's something we should aim for,” he said.

“Because the wider issue that prevented the reopening of schools in general was that we didn't want a million people on the move, mobilising at the one time given the presence of the variant which is now 70pc of cases.

"And that variant transmits more easily and that has an impact in terms of the spread of the disease.

“The numbers are coming down,” he added.

“I think a phased return to school is manageable and can be monitored. We can bring in additional protections in schools to make them even safer as locations for people to work in, and to study in.”



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