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Cabinet sub-committee agrees to shut schools and construction sites until 1 February

The decision was made this evening.

THE CABINET SUB-committee has this evening decided to close the vast majority of schools as well as all construction sites until 1 February at the earliest. 

The sub-committee, which is chaired by Taoiseach Michéal Martin and includes Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and various ministers, including Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, met this evening to consider the latest restrictions, ahead of a full Cabinet meeting tomorrow.

Certain special schools and classes will remain open while construction sites for social housing and schools, deemed to be ‘essential’, will also be allowed to remain open. 

Earlier today, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said re-opening schools would result in around one million people travelling to and from school – something he said had to be avoided. 

“Opening schools means that a million people are out there in the community. And given the rapidity and the spread of the disease, and given what we’re witnessing elsewhere in other jurisdictions, in terms of that rapidity, and that growth, one has to really measure the advisability of doing that.

“That’s why it is on the agenda today that we would extend out the closure of schools to the end of the month,” the Taoiseach said.

As well as changes to schools and construction, several other measures are expected when it comes to international travel and retail.

The sub-committee agreed that the click-and-collect exemption for non-essential retailers should be scrapped, to prevent shoppers from visiting retail premises.

It’s expected that once Cabinet signs off on the new measures tomorrow, all travellers into Ireland from any country will have to provide a negative PCR test from the previous 72 hours. 

Passengers will have to show the negative test when boarding.

This will be a priority for those travelling from the UK and South Africa as a measure against the new coronavirus strains, but will then eventually be extended to other countries.

These new restrictions are expected to be formally signed off by Cabinet tomorrow, with the government planning to review the changes on 30 January.

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Tonight’s decision comes as health officials announced a further 17 deaths and 5,325 new cases of coronavirus in Ireland, with hospital admissions rising to 840. Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said we are now experiencing a considerable surge in cases and hospitalisations.

Tighter restrictions are also being enforced in across the UK and in Northern Ireland, as Covid-19 cases increase at worrying rates there.

This evening, Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster announced that schools are to engage in remote learning until the mid-term break. Tighter restrictions are also in place in Scotland and Wales.

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday announced a new national lockdown for England which means people will only be able to leave their homes for limited reasons, with measures expected to stay in place until mid-February.

In an address to the British nation, he said the new coronavirus variant – which is 50% to 70% more transmissible – was spreading in a “frustrating and alarming” manner.

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