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Taoiseach says restrictions will likely continue 'well into' February and possibly beyond

Micheál Martin said Covid-19 transmission rates are too high to ease restrictions.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin
Taoiseach Micheál Martin
Image: VMTV

THE TAOISEACH HAS said Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions will likely continue “well into” February.

The Cabinet Covid-19 subcommittee will meet to discuss the restrictions on Monday, before a full Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Speaking on Ireland AM today, Micheál Martin said the third wave of the pandemic continues to be “very challenging” and that transmission rates are too high to ease restrictions.

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

Yesterday 61 more deaths and 2,488 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Ireland. Some 1,949 people with the virus are in hospital and 210 people are in ICU.

Martin said schools and certain construction projects are “essential” and will be examined separately to sectors such as hospitality, which are expected to be closed for longer.

When asked if businesses in the hospitality sector could be closed until May or June, Martin said: “We have to take it one step at a time, we can’t make decisions that far out”, but added he was “ruling nothing out”.

Schools 

Schools for children with additional educational needs were initially due to re-open today until the government abandoned its plan after unions said they opposed the move over safety concerns.

The Taoiseach said: “I think there was a shared objective with the unions and the government to open special needs education.”

He added that the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, has been engaging with unions in a bid to address their safety concerns such as providing medical grade PPE for teachers.

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

There have been terse public exchanges between Foley and trade unions in recent days.

Yesterday Foley said it was “a matter of deep regret” that unions opposed the phased reopening of schools for children with special educational needs this week, despite it being deemed an essential service.

In response, Fórsa’s head of education told TheJournal.ie: “It was very clear the approach for reopening was falling apart at the seams, a lot of measures that we had asked for weeks ago were only finally agreed on Tuesday afternoon. By that time, it was clear school staff had no confidence in the approach.”

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”.

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“It’s an unnatural state for humans to be in, where we are now. But I think we just need to stick with it because I do think there’s light at the end of the tunnel, I genuinely think that.

“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.”

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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