Schools and colleges unlikely to reopen until September

Under proposals for phased opening, creches would also be in later stages of plan

Creches for children of non-essential workers would not open until the later stages of the phased plan to ease coronavirus restrictions, under draft proposals being worked on by officials.

The later stages of the plan being worked on by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) include the reopening of schools, colleges and other education facilities.

It is understood the aim would be for this to apply from the start of the school and academic year in September, and social distancing rules would still apply.

The phases of the plan to lift restrictions are broken down as: initial phase, early phase stage one, early phase stage two, middle phases and late phases. The latter two phases could be broken down into more stages.

While the latest drafts of the document do not specify dates, earlier drafts spaced the phases out in periods between early May and September.

Creches would open in the middle stages for the children of essential workers, but would not open for other workers until the late phases and on a staged basis – such as one day a week from the start.

Hairdressers would also not open until the middle phases. It is understood that this would be possible only where protective equipment is available.

Playgrounds, it is understood, would open in early phase stage two, while outdoor walks and parks where people are not stationary, are moving and can respect social distancing would reopen in the initial phase.

Commercial and social life

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the daily numbers of deaths, new cases and ICU patients associated with coronavirus suggest the conditions are not yet suitable to lift the restrictions on commercial and social life.

Restrictions imposed by the Government in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, were introduced on March 28th and are due to last until at least May 5th.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar said it was “totally incorrect” to say that restrictions were not yet being lifted because the testing capacity was not where it needed to be.

“Why we are not reopening at this stage is because of the high number of people in ICU who have Covid, the fact that the number of deaths being reported every day is still very high and the fact that we’re still seeing quite a lot of new cases every day,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said a number of factors had to be taken into account and said these would be reviewed by Dr Tony Holohan, the chief medical officer, and NPHET on Friday.

“I don’t think I’d be out of school by saying that those numbers just aren’t good enough yet. Maybe it’ll change significantly by Friday. But, as things stand, I don’t think we’re there yet.”

On emerging Cabinet divisions over the timing of the easing of restrictions, Mr Varadkar said he expected to hear different views from Ministers.

“Any time you get 15 or 20 people in the room and ask for their views on something, you’re going to have different views. And if I wasn’t hearing different views from my Ministers on any issue, I would actually be quite worried because that would be a sign of groupthink or a sign that they are somehow afraid to express their opinions.”