TOMORROW, the Government will launch its new Plan for Living with Covid-19 after conceding the existing strategy is no longer fit for purpose due to the emergence of new coronavirus variants and the introduction of the national vaccination programme.
cross Government, ministers and their advisers are playing down any expectation that the new plan will give people any clarity on when their lives will return to some form of normality. However, here is what we know so far about the plan.
The main focus of the strategy for the next five weeks is getting students back into classrooms so they can resume their education. All going according to plan, it is hoped Leaving Cert students, along with the first four years of primary school, will be sitting in classrooms from March 1.
The impact of classes returning will be reviewed by Nphet after two weeks, at which point the remainder of primary schools students, along with fifth year and possibly even third year secondary school pupils, will return. Negotiations with unions are ongoing a week out from schools reopening and tensions are still high in the talks. Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman infuriated unions last week by announcing that he expected primary schools to return on March 15. However, it is still hoped schools will reopen despite the minister’s intervention.
This is one area where there is a lot of mixed messaging and opposing views. On one hand, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien has said he expects construction to return on March 5 – but this now seems unlikely. There is talk about a small amount of construction being permitted next month but it is more likely to be delayed until April.
There is concern about large building sites bringing in workers from different counties, including the North, which could exacerbate the situation with the virus. However, the housing crisis is ever present and ministers are conscious of the impact of the construction ban on this issue.
Level 5 restrictions
It is unclear when Level 5 restrictions will be lifted, but you can be sure it won’t be any time soon. There is no appetite for easing restrictions until Monday, April 5, the very earliest, and most ministers and their advisers believe the highest level of Covid regulations will be in place right up until the start of May.
The new plan is not expected to set out dates for lifting restrictions but rather for reviewing the situation with the virus.
There is significant caution in the Government, especially in the Taoiseach’s Office, after the plan to reopen the country for Christmas saw a third wave of Covid during which there were many deaths. As one source said the message will be “keep calm and carry on”.
A review of the highest level of restrictions will be carried out in the first week of April.
Reopening the country
There is a push among some ministers to allow people meet up with friends and family outdoors in April, as is being proposed in England. However, others expect this is more likely to happen in May.
The ban on household visits will certainly remain in place until at least May and the new plan is not expected to give a date for when people will be permitted to visit the homes of their friends and families.
Debate is ongoing on the order for reopening various sectors such as non-essential retail and hospitality, but again, the plan is not expected to give definitive dates. The Taoiseach said he expected hospitality to return by mid-summer but even his advisers don’t know when exactly that is.
Significant emphasis will be focused on the national vaccination programme which the Government hopes will be ramped up to one million jabs a month by April and beyond. The number of people vaccinated will also be a key factor in deciding when restrictions can be eased.
It is hoped all healthcare workers and over-70s will have received their two jabs by mid-May and this will give the Government more room to ease Covid regulations.
The pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) and business supports for employers are expected to remain in place at their current rates until at least June.
Source: Irish News