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Government Buildings, Dublin, Source: Mike Peel, Wikipedia, (CC BY SA-4.0)

Ireland extends Level 5 lockdown until 5 April

Ireland extends Level 5 lockdown until 5 April

Schools will start reopening from 1 March; mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals is being considered

Following Cabinet agreement on a proposal by the sub-committee on Covid-19, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin announced last night that most Level 5 restrictions across Ireland will be extended until 5 April. However, under the revised Covid-19 Resilience and Recovery 2021 Plan: the Path Ahead, a phased reopening of schools will take place from 1 March.

“End is truly in sight”

Addressing the nation from the Government Buildings in Dublin, Martin acknowledged that the Irish people are physically and emotionally drained by the pandemic and the ensuing restrictions. But he made it clear that to open up the country safely, it is essential that Covid-19 case numbers are kept low and the vaccine roll-out is speeded up. The PM stressed that the emergence of the highly infectious B117 (British) variant was like dealing with a new virus.

"We will get through this, we just need to stay focused and get through these next few months safely together," pleaded Martin, quoted by public broadcaster RTÉ. The PM said he is not blind to the devastation the pandemic has brought to so many businesses and livelihoods, "but I also know that the end is now truly in sight".

He assured that current restrictions will be reviewed before 5 April when the Government will consider easing the 5km travel limit as well as curbs on outdoor gatherings and sports.

Return of schools, childcare and social care

Martin said the way forward was split into two phases - before and after 5 April. And while Level 5 restrictions will remain in place, there will be three important differences. This includes the phased reopening of schools, the expansion of the reopening of childcare, and the resumption of non-Covid health and social care services.

From next Monday, 1 March, the Leaving Cert students, as well as junior and senior infants at primary schools, will return to in-person education. The Early Childhood Care and Education preschool scheme (mainly three to five year olds) will resume on 8 March with all childcare returning on 29 March.

The remaining primary school students and fifth-year secondary school students will return on 15 March, subject to reviews. 12 April – the end of the Easter holidays - is the target date for the return to in-school education of the remainder (first to fourth year) of secondary school students.

The Opposition has accused the Government of sending confusing messages prior to the publication of the revised plan. According to People Before Profit party, infection rates should be close to zero before schools reopen.

Economic supports

The PM said the Government will keep all of the various support schemes for businesses and individuals, due to close on 31 March, until the end of June. He said a new National Economic Recovery Plan to reboot the economy in the aftermath of the pandemic is in advanced planning stages. Martin added that EUR 20 million in new funding will be allocated for mental health supports and investment in communities.

Regarding the country’s vaccination drive, the PM informed that over 350,000 jabs have already been administered, but Ireland was not in a position to significantly ramp up the vaccination programme. The vaccination priority list will be updated, moving up persons with underlying illnesses, he said.

Mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals

Meanwhile, the Government is continuing discussions on a plan to establish a mandatory hotel quarantine system for incoming travellers in Ireland akin to the one in place in neighbouring Great Britain. The opposition Sinn Féin, Labour and Social Democrats want mandatory hotel quarantine for all arrivals to form part of the revised Covid-19 Resilience and Recovery 2021 Plan, pointing to signs that people are frustrated and angry with the current strategy. 

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