‘High levels’ of Covid restrictions until at least Easter, Taoiseach says

Micheál Martin said a phased reopening of schools and construction is the Government’s priority. Photo: PA
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Strict coronavirus restrictions are likely to continue until at least Easter, the Taoiseach has said.

Micheál Martin said a phased reopening of schools and construction is the Government’s priority.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he said: “Schools are the priority and construction – a phased return to construction, particularly house-building – because we have a social crisis in terms of the availability of housing for people across all strata of society.

“And, certainly, we are looking at a continuation of high levels of restrictions to the Easter period. That remains to be determined by Government; there will be further discussions.”

Mr Martin said it “makes sense” with coronavirus vaccines being rolled out that the Government remains “cautious and conservative” in its approach.

He added that the numbers of people in hospital with the virus needed to continue to reduce.


“We have to get those numbers down, we have to relieve those pressures, not just in the short term but for a sustained period, and into the long term we don’t want that situation happening again in our hospitals,” he said.

UK variant

On Wednesday night, Mr Martin indicated to his Fianna Fáil colleagues that the country will remain in a prolonged period of lockdown, with some in the party predicting it could last right up to the beginning of May.

According to The Irish Times, Mr Martin told Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators that the UK variant of Covid-19 (which now accounts for three-quarters of all cases in Ireland) had resulted in numbers remaining stubbornly high.

At a meeting of his parliamentary party, he said Covid numbers in hospitals were still 25 per cent higher than in the April peak last year, and the number of patients in ICU was falling very slowly.

He expressed concern at the impact of the UK variant saying that close contacts had a positivity rate of 22.5 per cent, over twice the positivity rate of 10-11 per cent of the original virus.


He told colleagues a “prolonged period” of suppression was required. A senior Government source told The Irish Times that the new Living with Covid plan, and the planned changes to commence on March 5th, would not result in any easing of Level 5 restrictions, save in the key sectors of education and construction.

Conversely, said the source, the Level 5 restrictions will be tightened in many cases. There was a sign of that on Wednesday, when the GAA revealed that inter-county games will no longer be allowable under Level 5.

“We are in a phase of indefinite lockdown,” said the source. “The restrictions will continue right into April and possibly to the beginning of May.”

“There will be zero wriggle room for anyone looking for relaxing of restrictions,” he said.

'Right direction'

Meanwhile, Leo Varadkar said Ireland’s Covid-19 case numbers were “going in the right direction”.

Speaking at a meeting of Fine Gael’s parliamentary party on Wednesday, the Tánaiste said falling case numbers prove that lockdown is working and strengthen the case for a phased reopening of schools, which he described as a Government priority.

However, Mr Varadkar warned there remains a “long way to go” in the battle against the virus.

He said numbers, while improved, are still well above the peak figures for the first wave last year.

Members heard the Government is doing its best to co-ordinate with other jurisdictions, with five operating on the two islands of Ireland and Britain.

Varadkar: Covid-19 case numbers ‘going in the righ...
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He also told colleagues that Ireland can not hope to have restrictions that can be compared with Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Varadkar pointed to the Border and the high number of cases in counties close to the Border. He said he was unsure if mandatory quarantine would even be introduced in the North, according to colleagues who were at the meeting.

A further 1,006 new Covid-19 cases were announced on Wednesday night, along with 54 deaths.

Meanwhile 990 patients are in public hospitals with the disease, the first time it has been below 1,000 in more than a month – while 167 are in intensive care units.

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