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Strict restrictions set to remain in place until May

From press conferences and interviews in the last 12 hours, it hard to know exactly what the plan is, the team at has summarised what is going on as best we can.

NO MAJOR EASING of restrictions beyond the re-opening of schools are expected until May. It’s understood that the Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19 heard last night that the country won’t be moving from Level 5 to Level 4 restrictions for some time.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar asked people to “dig deep” and to stick with restrictions so schools could open; while the Taoiseach said in an interview that the effort would be “worth it”.

The reopening of schools

The phased re-opening of schools is expected over March and early April.

Speaking this morning on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman said primary school students were likely to return in two phases.

It’s expected that junior infants, senior infants, first and second class will return on 1 March. All primary school children will return to school from 15 March, when third, fourth, fifth and sixth class pupils return.

The majority of secondary school students, however, won’t be returning to school until after the Easter holidays. Leaving Cert students, however, are being prioritised and will likely return next month. Final decisions regarding schools are set to be made at Cabinet next week.

Speaking on the News at One today, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said: “There is hope on the horizon, we’re just asking people to dig deep, to stick with us, to stick with the restrictions, so that we don’t jeopardise the reopening of schools and childcare in March.”

The drop in cases has slowed

The news of no significant easing until May comes as public health officials said last night that while Covid-19 numbers are still going in the right direction, progress has now slowed down.

Professor Philip Nolan, chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said that this is likely due to the increased prevalence of the UK B117 variant, which he said is now 90% of all Covid-19 cases in Ireland.

“We are maintaining suppression, but it’s precarious,” said Nolan, who estimated the reproduction number to be between 0.65 and 0.85.

In a letter to government last Thursday, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said he had expected case numbers to be between 300 and 100 a day in mid-March.

According to Nolan, modelling now shows that case numbers are expected to fall between 400 and 500 cases per day at the beginning of March, then falling to between 200 and 350 in the middle of March, if the reproduction number can be kept between 0.7 and 0.9.

The government is expected to announce its new plan for living with Covid-19 next week.

It is hoped that vaccination roll out will significant ramp up while strict restrictions remain in place. Varadkar said during his interview today that the Government was expecting to get close to 1.25 million doses of vaccines in April, saying that this represented “hope on the horizon”.

The vaccination of people within the over-85 age group began earlier this week.

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