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Prolonged lockdown restrictions on the cards 'until the Easter period', says Taoiseach

The priority remains the phased return of schools and construction, and not much else in the weeks to come.

Image: Leon Farrell

Updated Feb 11th 2021, 8:52 AM

THE MAJORITY OF the current lockdown restrictions are set to be extended “until the Easter period”, the Taoiseach has said.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, the Taoiseach said the Government is “looking at a continuation of a high level of restrictions” into April.

Micheál Martin confirmed the strategy the government is pursuing is one of prolonged suppression of the virus and keeping the numbers down.

He also told Newstalk this morning that people can assume Level 5 restrictions will largely remain in place until Easter (which falls on 4 April), but said the Government would “take stock” in a couple of weeks time.

As stated repeatedly by those in Government over the last few weeks, the priority remains the phased return of schools and construction.

In March and April there will be an increase in the numbers vaccinated, Martin said. The Taoiseach told his party members last night that the country would be in a much better space towards the middle of Quarter 2 this year.

Revised plan

A ‘refreshed’ Living with Covid plan will be published the week after next, but senior sources have said people shouldn’t expect any massive changes to the restrictions come March or April.

The Taoiseach said this morning that more “clarity” will be provided when the revised plan is published.

However, senior sources have said most shops and hospitality will remain closed beyond 5 March, and the 5km travel limit is likely to remain in place.

It will be the summer before pubs, restaurants, and hotels are expected to reopen, remaining closed until at least May.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has stated that he wants households to be allowed to meet outdoors after 5 March, stating the prolonged period of lockdown is having an impact on peoples’ mental health.

He has also said domestic holidays will be possible this summer.

He confirmed to TheJournal.ie last week that he did not envisage outdoor dining to be permitted next month.

The Taoiseach has said restrictions and how they are lifted is dependent on numbers falling and vaccine roll out.

Schools 

In terms of schools, the Taoiseach said this morning talks are underway with the unions about whether schools will return before Easter.

He said “next week there will have to be clarity on” the Leaving Cert, stating that it is important the students have class time. 

“Therefore time is precious,” he said. He said priority is being placed on construction as there is a “social crisis” in terms of the availability of houses.

The Taoiseach said the return of inter-county sport will be looked at under revision of Living with Covid plan, but suggests cases will have to be in the low hundreds for this to happen.

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“There’s a balance here in terms of the mental health of people and quality of life,” he said.

Last night, the Tánaiste said the Covid numbers were going in the right direction, but that there is still a long way to go in the Covid battle and we are still well above the peak figures for the first wave last year.

Vaccines

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly told the Fianna Fáil party last night that 900 GP practices will begin roll out of vaccines to over-85s next week, and gave credit to the IMO for its adaptability and stepping up to the logistical challenge of rolling out Pfizer and Moderna instead of AstraZeneca.

Martin said September is still the target for getting the majority of the population inoculated, stating that he believes the vaccination programme will pick up in the months ahead. 

He said he could not provide timelines with precision as the availability of vaccine supply is not in his control. Martin is hopeful the Johnson & Johnson vaccine might be approved earlier than expected, perhaps in early April, and that would “make a real difference”.

The suppression of the virus is “a prize worth fighting for” as the vaccination rollout continues, he said.

As of last night, there were 990 people with Covid-19 in hospital, with 167 people in ICU and a further 123 Covid-19 patients on ventilation. 

At the peak of the third wave, there were 2,032 people hospitalised with Covid-19. The peak number of people in ICUs was 221.

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