No guarantee all children will be back in school by mid-April, Ryan warns

Return depends on ‘continued effort of all our citizens’, says Minister

Minister for  Transport Eamon Ryan  also pointed to low Covid-19 rates among road hauliers at just 0.23 per cent positivity. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan also pointed to low Covid-19 rates among road hauliers at just 0.23 per cent positivity. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The return to school of all children by mid-April cannot be guaranteed and relies on the “continued effort of all our citizens”, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has warned.

He said “I know this is extremely hard and a lot of people are at breaking point”.

But he said that if people stick with the plan from the State’s public health experts and progress on the vaccination programme “we can in the late spring and summer look forward to some relaxation of measures and be able to meet with our loved ones outdoors once again”.

Mr Ryan also pointed to low Covid-19 rates among road hauliers at just 0.23 per cent positivity. Some 4,294 PCR tests have been carried out among Irish hauliers travelling to France with 10 testing positive.

But Mr Ryan warned that because community daily case numbers of Covid-19 and hospital admissions remain high, the only easing of restrictions would be for the phased return of children to in-school education.

Mr Ryan hoped all children would be able to return to in-school education by the middle of April.

“This, however, is not guaranteed and it relies on the continued effort of all our citizens.” He was speaking during a Seanad debate on the impact of the pandemic on transport.

Earlier Labour Senator Marie Sherlock appealed to the Government and public health experts not to call variants of virus by the name of the country where they were first detected because of concerns about it contributing to racism.

Ms Sherlock said “we have enough problems with racism in this country without exacerbating it because of a poor or lazy choice of language”.

Assigning blame

Appealing for the actual terms of variants to be used such as P1, 501Y, Ms Sherlock said “it’s not beyond us to use the appropriate terms as opposed to labelling a country, because we know Covid-19 travels and it does not recognise borders”.

Mutations of coronavirus have been found in the UK, California, Nigeria, Brazil, South Africa and a number of other countries and regions and Ms Sherlock said in the Seanad it was “regrettable that, by calling it after the country where it is first detected, we are almost seeking to assign blame to those countries where the variant arose”.

Mr Ryan highlighted Government efforts to deal with more infectious variants of the virus which he said prompted intensified safeguards to prevent importation and the spread of these variants of concern.

“Within a day of news emerging of the new variant circulating in the UK we banned flights from Great Britain to Ireland.

“We have stopped visa-free travel from South America. We also have put the quarantine requirement for passengers without an exemption on a mandatory, legal footing.”

Under the new mandatory quarantine legislation due in the Seanad next week, 20 countries from which arriving travellers will have to quarantine will be “on the assessed level of risk by public health experts” taking Covid variants of concern into account.

Mr Ryan stressed that “restrictions on international travel will be kept under constant review to ensure travel does not become a weak link in our response as domestic transmission is brought under control”.

Aviation support

Minister of State Hildegarde Naughten said that while Dublin Airport traffic was down by 95 per cent, traffic at Shannon and Cork was down 99 per cent.

She acknowledged that the outlook for the aviation sector in 2021 “is not positive” and said there are no scheduled services operating at Shannon until April at the earliest, “when Ryanair has indicated it will reopen its base and commence a summer schedule of flights”.

Ms Naughten said more than €200 million has been made available in operational supports at Irish airports and airlines but there was a need for targeted support and the Government agreed a revised €80 million in funding aviation this year.

She would consider proposals for additional targeted support because of the deepening crisis in the sector but supports could only be advanced “at the appropriate time”, taking account of the “outlook for the easing of travel restrictions and improving wider epidemiological conditions”.