Level 5 restrictions could be in place until May with Ministers expecting almost no measures to ease next month.
The phased re-opening of schools is likely to be the only major easing of the current lockdown amid fears around the new COVID variants.
Public Health Officials were described as incredibly cautious last night by senior Ministers briefed on the re-opening of schools.
It’s likely to start on March 1st with Leaving Cert students, along with junior and senior infants, but a final date hasn’t been formally signed off.
Multiple Ministers admitted there’s a good chance not all students will be back in classrooms by Easter.
Some classes will return at the start of March, and then others on a phased basis every two or three weeks out into April.
Construction wasn’t formally discussed at last night’s meeting, but a number of people present said they don’t see NPHET giving it the go-ahead.
It’s expected very few restrictions will ease in the short term, with Level 5 possibly lasting until May.
Pay supports like the pandemic unemployment payment and wage subsidy scheme will likely be extended until June, with no significant re-opening for many sectors before then.
The one ray of positive news at the meeting was briefing from HSE boss Paul Reid and Vaccine Taskforce Chair Brian MacCraith that more than a million vaccinations a month could be happening from April.
The Deputy Chief Medical Officer says Ireland’s progress in driving down Covid rates has not “stalled”.
NPHET last evening reported 47 more deaths and 901 new cases of the virus, seven in Carlow with up to four in Kilkenny.
There are 752 people in public hospitals with Covid and 151 in intensive care. Four of these are in the unit at St Luke’s among 15 patients with the virus while three of the 40 at University Hospital Waterford are in ICU – with five others suspected of having the virus at the facility overall.
The number of new cases has remained near 1,000 per day for the last week, despite lockdown measures.
But Dr Ronan Glynn says things are moving in the right direction, just more slowly than before.
Local Electoral Areas
Two local electoral areas have 14-day incidence rates of Covid-19 which are at least three times the national average.
Galway City Central LEA had a rate of 951 per 100,000 people in the two-week period that ended on Monday.
The second highest was Ballymun-Finglas LEA in Dublin, at 820 – compared to the national average of 269.
Galway city central councillor Martina O’Connor believes there are two reasons why the area is the worst-hit in the country.
Across Carlow and Kilkenny’s seven electoral areas Tullow had the highest rate at 369.9 followed by Carlow Town (344.4), Piltown (295.2), Bagenalstown (230.3), Callan Thomastown (131.4), Castlecomer (123) with Kilkenny City again coming in lowest on a rate of 114.
The medicines watchdog says there are no safety concerns about Covid-19 vaccines – despite over 2,100 reports of side-effects.
The Health Products Regulatory Authority says common complaints are tiredness, dizziness and headaches.
About 260,000 doses of the jab had been administered here during the period in question.
HPRA chief executive Lorraine Nolan says all three vaccines being used here are safe.
In the UK
A leading doctor in the UK says medics on the front line of the pandemic, must be allowed time off to recuperate.
Professor Andrew Goddard – who’s President of the Royal College of Physicians – says the health service can’t go from “crisis management in the pandemic to crisis management of the backlog.”
A survey of doctors across the UK shows around half weren’t getting enough sleep and almost two thirds said there’d been no discussion about getting time off.
Meanwhile, Wales’ lockdown is to be extended by three weeks.
It’s believed Stay-at-home restrictions will remain in place, as the youngest children start returning to school from Monday.
First minister Mark Drakeford will announce later today plans for primary pupils and some older students to return to classrooms from the 15th of March – if Covid-19 cases continue to fall.