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Back To School

Cabinet sub-committee gives green light for phased reopening of schools in March and April

It’s understood it’s likely there will be little easing of restrictions until May.

LAST UPDATE | Feb 18th 2021, 7:45 PM

THE CABINET COVID-19 sub-committee has given the green light for the phased reopening of schools in March and April. 

The measures will be officially signed off on Tuesday at a full Cabinet meeting. 

Speaking on his way into the sub-committee meeting earlier, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the reopening of the country will be “cautious”.

It’s understood that the Cabinet sub-committee has been told that the country won’t be moving to Level 4 restrictions for some time. 

Tonight’s meeting was also attended by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn. 

The Taoiseach confirmed earlier today that public health experts would be making a presentation to government on the reopening of schools, stating that “public health authorities want to do this on a gradual basis, because they want to monitor the impact of increased mobilisation of people on the spread of the disease”.

Earlier today, he told Limerick’s Live 95FM that the reopening of schools is going to be phased and likely to begin 1 March with junior and senior infants, as well as 1st and second class. 

The Taoiseach announced last night to his parliamentary party that in terms of post-primary, Leaving Cert and fifth-year students will likely return first, with other years returning throughout March.

The current aim is for full days, but with strict guidelines to be followed by students and teachers, including bubbles in school, and when travelling to and from school.

Speaking on the radio this morning, he said said reopening must be gradual:

“A million people coming back at the one time, it’s just not possible, because of the impact, given the nature of the variant that we now have, which is highly transmissible, and more dangerous,” he said.

He said the public health will monitor the return of students after the first two weeks to assess the impact. 

The final plan for the reopening of schools will be announced then next week, once there is full Cabinet sign off.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One this morning, Education Minister Norma Foley also said the government will announce further plans on Tuesday.

“But at this point I am cautiously optimistic to employ what the Deputy CMO said that we have to have a cautious return to schooling.

“I would be very hopeful that would begin on 1 March with Leaving Certs and perhaps with the junior students in primary school. And after a two-week period or so we would review that and we would move along with other students, but it is a phased return,” she said. 

The Taoiseach said Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman will be working with the childcare sector for similar “gradual reopening” of creches.

Creches will want to be in ‘one step’ with the schools, he said but added that he did not want to preempt the consultations and speculate that creches might be open come 1 March.

The government is also set to launch its revised version of the Living with Covid plan next week. 

“We’re looking at a very cautious reopening. We want to roll out the vaccines to get as many people as possible”, he said, adding that the fall in case numbers, and hospitalisations “does give us hope”. 

With reporting by Hayley Halpin

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