The Government on Wednesday approved the harshest lockdown measures since last March, with significant restrictions likely to remain in place into this spring.
The new restrictions will see schools closed until February 1st.
However, plans to partially reopen schools for thousands of Leaving Cert students and special needs pupils were in doubt on Wednesday night due to growing opposition from teachers’ unions and principals’ representatives.
The groups are seeking urgent meetings with the Government over the public health basis for the decision, which they say risks jeopardising the safety of teachers and students.
“Has health and safety been abandoned?” Michael Cregan, president of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, told The Irish Times. “There are lots of logistical problems. What provision is there for childcare for teachers?”
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland said it was “gravely concerned” over the Government’s decision.
Its president, Martin Marjoram, said: “Our members do not have trust and confidence that opening schools to Leaving Certificate students as is proposed can be safely achieved under the current circumstances.”
A number of school principals – who declined to be named to Irish Times reporters – said they were considering closing and teaching Leaving Cert pupils remotely despite the Government decision.
Arising from the restrictions, almost all construction activity will be stopped. Childcare will be closed to all except vulnerable children and those of essential workers, with creches asked to return or pause fees for the parents classed as non-essential, who will lose access to facilities.
As the number of daily Covid-19 cases hit a new high of 7,836, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the State may be entering “the most challenging phase of all”.