By Michelle Devane, PA
Ireland’s lockdown restrictions will not be eased at the end of this month, the Taoiseach has confirmed.
Micheal Martin also said Level 5 restrictions would continue into February given the high level of community transmission that still exists.
The Government’s Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 is due to meet on Monday to discuss the extension of the current restrictions, which are due to remain in place until January 31.
A final decision will be made on Tuesday following a Cabinet meeting.
Friday saw a further 52 deaths and 2,371 new cases of Covid-19 reported by the Department of Health.
Fifty of the deaths occurred this month, two of which are still under investigation.
As of Friday night there were 1,969 people with the disease in hospital, including 218 in ICU.
The country’s 14-day incidence rate now stands 1,017 per 100,000 population.
Speaking at Government Buildings on Friday Mr Martin said: “There is no talk at the moment in terms of any relaxation or reversing of restrictions at the end of this month.
“We are looking at a continuation of restrictions into February.
“You can take it that we’ll take stock every four weeks of the situation.”
He added: “Given the high level of community transmission out there still, and it is very high out there, I don’t think one can envisage any significant relaxation of restrictions at this particular point in time.”
Constructive meeting with my fellow #EUCO leaders tonight on our joint fight against COVID-19. Increasing levels of concern, including the risk of new variants. All agree on urgent need to press ahead with vaccinations. pic.twitter.com/ZC54RiDO6c— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) January 21, 2021
Mr Martin said Cabinet is considering introducing mandatory quarantining for people who come into the country without proof of a negative PCR test.
It is also looking into suspending visa-free travel for some countries.
He added that talks were ongoing between the UK and Ireland to find a “two-island” solution to mandatory quarantining.
But he said there were complications about potentially introducing a wider quarantine because of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic and that the border would not be sealed.
“Obviously there are complications, always have been, because of our relationship with the United Kingdom; with the border, with the North, and also the fact that we’re integrated into the European economic system,” he said.
“I suppose, it’s more easy to call for a quarantine than to deliver it comprehensively.
“And a lot of people coming back are Irish people coming back into the country.”
Mr Martin indicated that the schools would not reopen on February 1 and that the Government was focusing its attention on trying to resume classes for special educational needs pupils as soon as possible.
Asked about when schools were likely to reopen Mr Martin said: “I really don’t want to pre-empt the Cabinet committee meeting on Monday, but clearly community transmission levels are very high.
“The focus right now and the attention of the Minister for Education is on special schools and special education, working with the partners in education to see if we can develop a proposal around special education provision.”
He said Education Minister Norma Foley was continuing to engage with teachers’ unions and other educational partners, adding that they “still share a combined objective, to make provision for children with special needs as soon as that’s possible”.
“That work is ongoing,” he said.
The Government had to abandon plans to resume classes for pupils with special educational needs on Thursday after unions the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (Into) and Forsa said they had not received sufficient reassurances from the Department of Education that a return to schools was safe.