Cabinet set to agree closure of schools and construction until end of January
Click and collect retail set to be banned while crèches to remain open for essential workers
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said schools were safe but stressed the need to reduce mobility, saying “there is an issue in terms of having a million people on the go” if schools remained open. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire
The Cabinet is set to agree to the closure of schools and construction until the end of January.
The Cabinet is due to implement new restrictions for construction, sources have confirmed. Construction is expected to stop until the end of January with exceptions for essential projects such as social housing , urgent roof repairs and utilities.
However the Cabinet is expected to agree that special schools and special classes are to stay open. It is also expected to allow crèches to remain open to provide childcare for essential workers.
The news of a wide range of new measures to tackle Covid-19 being planned by the Government follows a meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee on coronavirus ahead of Wednesday’s full Cabinet meeting to finalise the agreement.
There are also expected to be changes for non-essential retailers, closed under Level 5, with click and collect services no longer permitted and delivery-only allowed. Asked about the click and collect ban on RTE’s Prime Time, Minister of State Niall Collins said it was “about shutting down the movement and mobility of people” and that people should “where at all possible avoid leaving home”.
The click and collect rule could also impact some take-away food services where customers need to physically enter the premises.
In a statement on Tuesday evening, McDonald’s Ireland said that while all of its drive-thru services would remain open and it would continue to provide a delivery service for customers, its “dine-in and walk-in takeaway services will be temporarily unavailable while we take time to review and reassess our safety procedures with an independent health and safety body ”.
The Cabinet is also set to agree that all travellers coming into the State from any country will have to provide a negative PCR test from the previous 72 hours.
It is understood the travel ban from Britain will be lifted on Saturday. However passengers will have to provide a negative PCR test.
Earlier Taoiseach Micheál Martin said schools were safe but stressed the need to reduce mobility, saying “there is an issue in terms of having a million people on the go” if schools remained open beyond the delayed reopening date of January 11th.
The three Coalition leaders and at least six Ministers participated in the subcommittee deliberations, with the final decision to be taken at Cabinet tomorrow.
Mr Martin said he started his working life as a schoolteacher and remained passionate about education. There was no easy way to implement crude measures but “we have to err on the side of caution”.
He said the school year had to be preserved and politicians had to think beyond next week.
Asked about the benchmark for reopening schools, he said the trajectory of the disease had to be going in the opposite direction to the one it is going in now.
The Taoiseach said he wanted the Leaving Cert to take place in the traditional format in the summer, when a substantial portion of the population was vaccinated. He said January 30th would remain a review date.
Mr Martin said that the issue of childcare for frontline workers would have to be addressed. “We will do what we can. There’s no easy way to implement crude measures.”
The Taoiseach said it was likely that the 5km limit would be maintained, which he said was “quite a restrictive measure.”
Earlier today, Siptu called for the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to assess the risks to workers and children in childcare services, saying the sector should be prioritised for vaccination and that those working in it are “extremely frightened” about returning to work.
Meanwhile, the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) said schools were now better prepared for remote learning with a plan for continuity of learning.
General secretary Michael Gillespie said guidance on remote teaching and learning in the Covid-19 context had been agreed for post-primary schools and centres for education.
He told Newstalk Breakfast that schools were very unlikely to reopen on Monday, January 11th and that the uncertainty was “not helping anybody”.
The closure should last “at a minimum until the 18th” to see if the spread of the virus had been suppressed under the current restrictions.
“We’re not calling for a long-term closure – we’re just talking for the minimum time possible to allow this. Schools will open, but they’ll open in a remote context and schools have planned for that.”
Schools are likely to stay closed for at least another week and possibly until the end of January due to surging Covid-19 infections, according to senior political sources.
Dr Holohan, who spoke on Monday with Taoiseach Micheál Martin about the schools issue, said that even though incidence among schoolchildren was lower than for other age groups, it had increased “very, very fast”.
Nphet was more concerned about transmission levels in this age group than it was a week ago, he said on Monday night. “We are concerned about our ability to assure the continuing provision of any of the key public services we have tried to protect, and education is one of them.”
With regard to the reopening of schools Dr Holohan pointed out that Nphet had “never said” that children did not contract Covid-19. “They do get it, they don’t get it to the same extent as the rest of the population.
“The work that has been done across schools, to maintain the school environment as a safe place, we can see that in the data. We’re now in a situation, and we have expressed concerns about this, these levels of infections in children of school-going age have increased very significantly, even if they are less than the average rate in the population.”
Meanwhile, the president of the Association of Secondary Students in Ireland (ASTI) has said that State exams must go ahead in 2021 “no matter what”.
Speaking to Philip Boucher-Hayes on RTÉ Radio One, Ann Piggott said the contents of exam papers may need to be changed because of the current situation, and that if time was needed to catch up teachers would be willing to discuss the matter with the Department of Education.
Ms Piggott called for clarity on the reopening of schools as teachers needed time to plan for remote learning and parents needed to make child-minding arrangements.
The union was worried about the increasing levels of the virus in the community. At a meeting with the Minister for Education on Monday, Ms Piggott said they were told that schools were “very safe places” and would reopen on Monday next.
“I don’t think there’s honesty in facing what’s happening.”