Household visits and playdates ‘still out’ despite return to schools

‘People might think everyone’s relaxing. That’s actually not true’ – Government official

Liz Canavan, assistant secretary general to the Department of the Taoiseach. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Liz Canavan, assistant secretary general to the Department of the Taoiseach. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The reopening of schools starting next week is not a signal that household visits and playdates for children are allowed, a senior Government official has said.

Liz Canavan, the assistant secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach said such social interactions are “still out”.

At a Government briefing on Covid-19, Ms Canavan also raised concern at a “potentially dangerous” misconception among the vast majority of people who responded to a survey that their behaviour is more careful than that of other people.

The latest figures from the Government’s Social Activity Measure (SAM) research shows that almost everyone that responded — 97 per cent — believed their behaviour was as, or more careful, than average. That’s despite low overall rates of socialising.

Ms Canavan said: “It’s a misperception but it’s a potentially dangerous one — people might think everyone’s relaxing. That’s actually not true.”

She said: “Although people find the restrictions tiresome, most remain very worried about the virus. Fatigue with restrictions is not presently linked to engaging in more social activity.

“A large majority believe that preventing the spread of the virus is more important than the burden of lockdown and few expect an early easing of restrictions,” she added.

Ms Canavan referred to plans to begin opening schools next week on a phased basis. She said the Government decision to extend other restrictions was a “difficult one” with considerable impact on all parts of our economy and society.

She said: “We are not out of the woods yet” and pointed to “unacceptably high level of disease in the community”, the continuing pressure on the health system, and the threat posed by new variants of the virus.

Ms Canavan said that from Monday junior and senior infant classes will return to schools along with first and second class. Special schools will move to 100 per cent capacity and final year Leaving Certificate students will be back in their classrooms.

She said the following week, March 8th will see the resumption of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and a week later on March 15th, it is planned that 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th classes at primary level can go back to school along with 5th year students in secondary schools.

Under the plans, from March 29th the remaining pre-school age children will be able to return to creches and the last secondary school students will be back in their classrooms on April 12th.

The phased return to schools depends on rates of Covid-19 spread being kept under control. Ms Canavan said: “As our schools and childcare services are opened up, we want them to remain open.

“That means that the opening of schools is not a signal for anything else. Household visits, playdates, meeting more than one other household outdoors are all still out.”

She also discouraged people dropping children to schools from visiting their workplaces if they’re passing as another example of “unnecessary activity”.

Earlier she said that the latest CSO research shows there has been a 10 per cent increase in the amount of people in workplaces.

“The default is work from home and it’s important to remember that,” Ms Canavan said.

She said the prevalent strain of the virus in the country — the variant first identified in Britain — is more transmissible than that which was in circulation during 2020.

“It will be more important than ever that we continue to observe the public health behaviours that have allowed us to manage the virus for almost 12 months now,” Ms Canavan said.