Childcare could be reopened in phases next month if Covid-19 situation continues to improve - Nphet
Ministers to finalise Living with Covid-19 Plan ahead of Cabinet meeting
While younger primary school pupils are expected to return to class from early March, deliberations continue as to when children can return to creches. File photograph: iStock
The Government has been told there should be scope to open both childcare services and schools on a phased basis provided the Covid-19 situation continues to improve.
While younger primary school pupils are expected to return to class from early March, deliberations continue as to when tens of thousands of children can return to creches and other childcare providers.
Senior Ministers will meet on Monday to finalise a revised Living with Covid-19 Plan ahead of a full Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has advised the current Level 5 restrictions should be extended beyond the current cut-off date of March 5th. It is understood Nphet has advised the opening of schools and childcare can happen on a “cautious and phased basis” as long as Covid-19 numbers continue to improve to the end of February.
On Monday, Nphet reported one further death from Covid-19 and 679 new cases.
There is an expectation in Government circles that the return of children of non-essential workers to childcare will begin next month. However, there is no final decision on whether this will be at the same time as classes for some primary school pupils reopen early in the month or if it will be later.
Many students may have to wait until April 12th before they return to the classroom under school reopening plans under discussion. Unions are expected to finalise a return to school plan with Department of Education officials on Monday. Under draft plans, primary schools would reopen from March 1st, at the earliest, for junior infants, senior infants, first classes and second classes.
At second level, Leaving Cert students would be prioritised to return on the same date. The remainder of primary school classes are expected to return a number of weeks later.
Sources said the reopening of childcare would be considered at a meeting of the Childcare Covid-19 Advisory Group to be attended by Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman on Monday. Its discussions will feed into the later Cabinet sub-committee meeting involving Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and senior Ministers.
Nphet’s advice to the Government is that further reopening of the economy and society should be undertaken cautiously and on a step-by-step basis, taking into account the impact on case numbers of the initial moves in relation to education.
Separately, people with serious underlying medical conditions are set to be moved up the prioritisation list for vaccinations. A group of people aged 18-64 – running into hundreds of thousands – had been placed seventh among groups listed in the sequencing of the rollout.
Not everyone in this category will be moved up the list but those with certain underlying conditions most at risk of a severe illness if they contract Covid-19 will be prioritised.
There was consternation in the hospitality industry after the Taoiseach said on Saturday he did not foresee pubs and restaurants opening again before mid-summer. The following day, the chairman of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group Prof Philip Nolan said there would be “an outdoor summer” with people taking holidays and recreation at home and socialising in the open air as much as possible.
Irish Hotels Federation president Elaina Fitzgerald Kane said the tourism industry was “devastated” that it could be the middle of the summer before it reopened and called for a review of State support for the sector.