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'Very challenging' Taoiseach refuses to rule out pubs being closed until May as restrictions to continue

The Taoiseach said schools and certain construction projects are “essential” and will be examined separately but retail sectors are likely to remain shut until the end of February.

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Micheal Martin (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Micheal Martin (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Micheal Martin (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

The Taoiseach has refused to rule out pubs being forced to stay shut in Ireland until May. 

Micheál Martin addressed a series of issues relating to the ongoing pandemic in a wide-ranging interview on Virgin Media's Ireland AM.

Speaking as the Cabinet Covid-19 subcommittee was due to meet to discuss the restrictions today and before a full Cabinet meeting next Tuesday, Mr Martin said the third wave of the pandemic continues to be “very challenging”.

“We need to get the numbers down,” Mr Martin said, adding “I think it will be well into the next month” before any easing of restrictions happens.

The Taoiseach said schools and certain construction projects are “essential” and will be examined separately but retail sectors are likely to remain shut until the end of February.

"It will be well into next month before the majority of Covid restrictions are relaxed", he said.

Mr Martin also said that over-70s will be in line to receive vaccines by March.

In relation to travel bans the Taoiseach said "we say to people do not travel in or out."

He added: "There's now an obligation of a PCR test. The evidence to date is people adhering to that.

"It is under constant review. The difficulty is people flying into Belfast. It's not as simple as banning travel".

And responding to suggestions that pubs could stay shut until May, Mr Martin said: "Again I think we have to take one step at a time. This virus evolves and changes, so I don’t think we can make predictions that far ahead.

"I’m not ruling anything out in terms of the effect the virus is having. In February, we don’t see a relaxation in any of those key sectors because we need to get the numbers down.

"One of the topics of discussion is the new variants and how to bring the numbers down. There’s the South African variant and the Brazilian variant."

On the issue of schools for children with additional educational needs that were initially due to re-open today, the Taoiseach said: “I think there was a shared objective with the unions and the government to open special needs education.

“It’s fair to say that there’s a general anxiety and fear around the virus,” he said, adding that negotiations are continuing.

Martin also said he is worried about the mental health impact of the pandemic, saying the government will “have to pay attention to resourcing nongovernmental organisations” and other supports.

He said, despite all the issues, “there is light at the end of the tunnel” and the vaccine rollout will be ramped up in the coming weeks and months.

“We do expect a significant ramping up in March, April, May, June,” he said.

Martin also noted that not seeing family and friends is “unnatural”.

“It’s an unnatural state for humans to be in, where we are now. But I think we just need to stick with it.

“Notwithstanding the fact that this virus is evolving and it’s deadly and dangerous, I do believe there’s light at the end of the tunnel, I think we can get there.”

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