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Government hoping for things to be 'much better' from April - but no large gigs on the cards this summer

In terms of concerts or large outdoor events in the summer, one government source said “no chance”.

THERE WILL BE no easing of the Level 5 restrictions until 5 March, at least, but government is hopeful the situation will have significantly improved from April.

While some school students may begin to return from March and construction is likely to return in the same month, those in government circles hope to ease off restrictions more significantly from April.

Depending (of course) on the pattern of the virus it’s expected the economy will be re-opened on a phased basis from that month – similar to the approach taken heading into the summer last year, with guidance on home visits gradually relaxed and more shops and services gradually opening up. 

Speaking last night Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said “what we’ll have to do on this occasion is any easing of restrictions which will have to be very, very, slow. More like the way we eased restrictions after the first wave”.

“It might start off very slow, maybe just with some retail, with maybe being allowed to meet two people outdoors, it’s going to be a very slow unwinding of restrictions but you know if we can get the figures down very low, that becomes a possibility.

“If we can get to the better weather, and this is a partially seasonal virus, so that does matter too, and if we can get a critical mass of people back vaccinated, we can ease restrictions,” he told the Claire Byrne Live programme.

Government sources state that people need to understand that it won’t be a return to normality if restrictions do begin to lift this year, even with the vaccine numbers on the rise.

In terms of going to concerts or large outdoor events in the summer, one government source said “no chance” – saying that that they were surprised to see the current high level of advertising for gigs.

They added that it is hoped the country can hold outdoor events or gatherings of around 50 people this summer.

And while it won’t be business as usual, sources state that the country will be in a much better place by summertime.

Education and construction

For February, the aim is to get schools for children with special needs back up and running. There was a hope construction sites might reopen also, but doubt was cast at last night’s Cabinet sub-committee meeting.

The rest of the education sector is next – with students to come back incrementally from mid to late March, with Leaving Cert students to be prioritised.

A government source said schools are viewed as an essential service, and everyone involved will do their utmost to get kids back into the classroom as soon as possible.

Yesterday, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly confirmed that the third group on the government’s vaccine allocation strategy – people aged 70 and over – would begin to receive a Covid-19 vaccine from next month. 

“The next stage of our vaccine programme will begin with those aged 85 years and older and will be administered initially through GPs in their surgeries,” he said. “The HSE is preparing a public information campaign that will provide all necessary details in advance and ensure that everyone knows when, where and how to access their vaccine.”

Level 5

The Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19 decided yesterday to extend the current Level 5 lockdown until at least 5 March – in line with the restrictions in Northern Ireland. 

The subcommittee also signed off on mandatory quarantine for those travelling into the country without a negative PCR test, as well as passengers from “high risk areas” such as South Africa and Brazil. 

Breaches of these regulations will result in a fine of up to €2,500 and/or up to six months’ imprisonment. Sources said it will take time to implement this system for operational and legal reasons. 

Ministers, including Varadkar, are in favour of two-island approach with the UK when it comes to travel. It is understood government are aware of speculation that Prime Minister Boris Johnson might unveil mandatory quarantine rules in the coming days, though it has not been coordinated with Dublin.

Cabinet is expected to sign off on these measures today with an announcement due this afternoon. 

With reporting from Sean Murray

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