Video: Clash over school returns, fresh Covid pressures and alcohol pricing

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Clash over school returns

The Government and teaching unions are set to clash over the reopening of schools, as the largest secondary teachers’ union seeks a postponement of the return to classrooms after the Christmas holidays.

Minister for Education Norma Foley and Department officials will meet unions and school management bodies on Tuesday ahead of the planned reopening of schools on Thursday.

The ASTI, which represents around 18,500 secondary teachers, will call for a “delayed and staggered” reopening of schools, warning that reopening them without additional safety measures would be an “unacceptable risk”.

However, the Government’s special rapporteur on child protection has warned against closing the schools, saying children had suffered a range of adverse effects from last year’s closures.

The Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) has meanwhile called for clarity on isolation measures so that it can be determined if schools can reopen on Thursday.

Fresh Covid pressures

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Staff shortages across critical services, along with shortages of both antigen and PCR tests, are exerting further pressure as a Covid-19 wave fuelled by the Omicron variant impacts Ireland.

The number of Omicron cases is “substantially higher” than the levels officially recorded through PCR tests, the HSE’s lead on the vaccination and contact tracing programmes has said.

Antigen test shortages will meanwhile hit Ireland this week, the secretary general of the Irish Pharmacy Union has warned, as further stocks are awaited.

The director general of the Health Service Executive (HSE) has instructed Irish hospitals to scale down elective procedures and to prioritise both urgent care and Covid-19 care for the next 14 days as the wave of infections impacts the health service.

Paul Reid issued the letter to hospital management as the number of people hospitalised with the virus rose to 884 this morning – a rise of 80 in 24 hours and more than double the figure seen on Christmas Day.

Beyond the health service, Covid-driven staff absences at Irish Rail have resulted in a number of trains being cancelled.

Alcohol pricing

Minimum unit alcohol pricing comes into effect in Ireland from Tuesday, seeing Ireland become one of only a small number of countries to introduce a legal floor price for the cost of alcoholic drinks.

The move is expected to impact more on alcohol sold in supermarkets and off licences, rather than pubs, restaurants and nightclubs - with the price changes explained in full here.

It will mean an average bottle of wine cannot be sold for under €7.40, while a can of beer will cost at least €1.70.

Spirits will see the biggest jump in price, with vodka and gin set to cost a minimum of €20.70, while whiskey will rise to at least €22.

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