| 7.8°C Dublin

classroom return Varadkar ‘confident’ schools can reopen on phased basis in February

Leo Varadkar told a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party on Wednesday night that reopening could begin in February and continue in March.

Close

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar during a press briefing at Government Buildings (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar during a press briefing at Government Buildings (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar during a press briefing at Government Buildings (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

The Tanaiste is “quietly confident” a phased reopening of schools will begin next month, a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party has heard.

Leo Varadkar told his TDs and Senators on Wednesday night of his belief that schools will be able to return on a phased basis beginning in February and continuing into March.

Students with special education needs are first in line to return when schools eventually reopen.

The Tanaiste also told his colleagues that the country may move to Level 4 restrictions on March 5, if the conditions allow for it.

Mr Varadkar said the country may go from Level 5 to Level 4, or “Level 4 with modifications”, similar to the manner in how the country emerged from the first wave last year, according to sources in the meeting.

Mr Varadkar also told the meeting “it was important to emphasise that following this week’s measures there is no silver bullet to eliminate Covid from Ireland”.

The Fine Gael leader said international travel accounts for 1pc or less of Covid-19 cases in the country, but he would not rule out any new strategy to deal with the pandemic.

He highlighted measures taken in 2020, including closing public houses and schools, which he said would not have been countenanced before, but action had to be taken.

He told party members that when tackling coronavirus, a lot of humility is required.

On Wednesday, the Taoiseach defended the Government’s plan to reduce coronavirus cases after it introduced new restrictions on travel and extended the lockdown.

Micheal Martin said he will do “whatever it takes” to keep numbers down, telling the Dail there will be “no half measures” to ensure a “prolonged suppression” of Covid-19.

The Government on Tuesday announced that Ireland’s third lockdown is to be extended until March 5, and also introduced tighter travel restrictions.

The new measures include mandatory quarantine at a designated facility for people who arrive in Ireland without a negative PCR test taken in the past 72 hours.

Travellers arriving without a negative test could also face a fine of 2,500 euro or a six-month prison sentence.

Visa-free short-term travel from South Africa and South America is suspended until at least March 5.

All passengers entering the country will be subject to mandatory quarantine, a change from the policy of voluntary self-isolation.

It will be a prolonged suppression of the virus. But the key measure is human behaviour, human behaviour is what stops the spread of the virusMicheal Martin

Mr Martin said: “I want to make a very clear that there will be no half-measures from me as Taoiseach, or from Government, in ensuring a prolonged suppression of this virus.

“We will do whatever it takes to keep the numbers down once we get the numbers down, and we are achieving that.”

He told the Dail that Ireland cannot allow daily cases to return to the levels of recent weeks.

“What we have now which we didn’t have last year is the vaccination. The evidence base for the vaccines is they prevent mortality and they prevent illness,” he added.

“I think that will give us choices towards mid-year when we will have significant numbers vaccinated.

“It will be a prolonged suppression of the virus. But the key measure is human behaviour, human behaviour is what stops the spread of the virus.”

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald accused the Government of introducing half-measures, and criticised the quarantine plans, saying all arrivals on the island should be forced to isolate for 14 days.

What you announced not only goes against public health advice, it goes against common senseMary Lou McDonald

“What we got is a Government that is clearly at sixes and sevens, with no idea of how to proceed beyond March 5,” The Dublin Central TD said.

“A Government that yet again has failed to prepare, failed to consult and failed to plan. So instead of a real plan, you have presented half-measures that simply don’t go far enough.

“At your press conference, contradiction and confusion between ministers was rife and clarity and certainty was in very scarce supply.

“This absence of urgency, of leadership and plain common sense, quite frankly, has caused huge alarm for many people.

“The biggest mess from your announcement yesterday is undoubtedly your proposal on international travel, because what you announced not only goes against public health advice, it goes against common sense.

“It’s not a system of mandatory quarantine. It is in fact one of voluntary self-isolation and you propose to send people back to homes and other accommodation with other people – people who may be going out to work, people who will go into our shops and stores and therefore risk the spreading of this virus.

“That to me is absolutely crazy.”

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly earlier said that September remains the “aspiration” to have every person in the country vaccinated, despite issues around supply.

He said the vaccination programme is “going well”, but delays to the supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine could hamper the Government’s timeframe.

“September is absolutely still the aspiration. We can’t promise… because it’s a projection based partly on vaccinations that haven’t even been applied for authorisation, and on delivery schedules that still have to be fully agreed,” he told RTE’s Today With Claire Byrne.

Wednesday saw another 54 deaths related to Covid-19 in Ireland.

There were a further 1,335 confirmed cases, according to figures from the Department of Health.

It brings the total number of Covid-related deaths in the country to 3,120.

The number of people in intensive care units has increased by one to 217.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “The current 14-day incidence remains more than double the peak incidence experienced during previous Level 5 measures in October, therefore now is not the time to drop your guard and start to interact with people outside your household.

“The risk of transmission in the community remains very high. We must continue to work towards reducing incidence of disease and preventing further hospitalisations and deaths.”


Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

Online Editors


Top Videos





Privacy