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no let up No meeting outdoors or travel further than 5km until May under new Covid plan

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Vaccination: Taoiseach Micheál Martin chats with patient Maura Burke as she receives a Covid-19 jab from Dr Safia Sayed at the Meath Primary Care Centre in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Julien Behal

Vaccination: Taoiseach Micheál Martin chats with patient Maura Burke as she receives a Covid-19 jab from Dr Safia Sayed at the Meath Primary Care Centre in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Julien Behal

Vaccination: Taoiseach Micheál Martin chats with patient Maura Burke as she receives a Covid-19 jab from Dr Safia Sayed at the Meath Primary Care Centre in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Julien Behal

People will not be permitted to meet outdoors or travel further than 5km from their home until at least May under a new plan for Living with Covid-19 being considered by the Government.

The country is facing into at least 10 more weeks of lockdown with the health service still struggling to deal with the variant of Covid-19 which first emerged in Britain.

The Taoiseach and his ministers were given a grim outlook of the coming months by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) at a Cabinet committee meeting on Covid-19 on Thursday.

Three ministers who attended the meeting insisted there will be no easing of restrictions until May beyond the reopening of schools and the return of construction work.

However, Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar sought to play down suggestions Level 5 restrictions would remain in place for more than two months despite their ministers privately conceding there would be no lifting of Covid regulations.

Ministers said guarantees could only be given on schools returning next month and possibly construction in April, and only in May will any other restrictions be examined by the Cabinet.

Ministers said the Government will consider easing the 5km travel ban and people may also be permitted to meet outdoors if the virus is under control in May.

However, there is no expectation that any other sectors of business or society will return up to this point.

Several sources involved in devising the Government’s new plan played down any expectations that household visits will be permitted between now and May.

There is serious concern about how fast the new variant can spread indoors which might further delay the reopening of non-essential retail outlets.

Schools and childcare are earmarked to return between the start of March and April.

They will be opened on a phased basis and reviewed every two weeks to assess the impact of their return on the spread of the virus.

Construction work is likely to resume in April and this will again be regularly reviewed. However, there is no proposed date decided for allowing construction workers to return to building sites.

The new Living with Covid-19 plan will put more of a focus on the National Vaccination Programme and it is hoped one million people a month will be vaccinated from April onwards.

The rate of vaccinations will be a key indicator for reviewing any moves between levels of restrictions in the new plan.

It has also emerged Nphet and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) are considering moving people with serious medical conditions higher up the priority list for vaccinations.

The Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 will meet again on Monday for further discussion on their revised plan for Living with Covid-19 ahead of a full meeting of Cabinet on Tuesday.

Yesterday, Mr Martin warned of no significant relaxation of Covid restrictions before the end of next month, while recognising the continuing stress and pressure on the adult population.

“I’m saying it really does depend on the progression of the disease,” he said. “I think our sense is that obviously the vaccination programme will impact on this, but we will assess that again closer to the end of March. There is going to be no large scale re-opening of society, that’s the point.”

He said he expected junior infants, senior infants and first and second class in primary, along with Leaving Cert students in secondary schools would be the first to go back.

He denied there was confusion surrounding the reopening of society but conceded there was concern and anxiety in the population. “I think people are very concerned with the prolonged nature of this lockdown but that is a function of the variant and a function of Covid

“I’ve been very straight with people in terms of saying there’s not going to be any major re-opening in the period ahead. But the roll-out of the vaccination programme does give us hope into the medium term. It also makes it the sensible thing to do to be cautious, and to be conservative.”

The roll out of vaccines is “really changing the landscape in terms of the impact of Covid-19 in our country”.

Online Editors


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