A continued decline in the number of new Covid infections and deaths could pave the way for a phased reopening of education from March onward.
A further 15 deaths due to Covid and 1,247 new infections were confirmed today, bringing the total number of deaths to 3,307 and the total number of cases to 196,547 to date.
Of the cases notified on Sunday, 60% were under 45 years of age, with the highest numbers reported in Dublin (430), Wexford (97), Cork (87), Limerick (84), and Galway (76).
Of those who died, the median age was 84 years.
The number of people receiving hospital treatment, however, rose slightly on Sunday, with 1,516 patients hospitalised, of which 211 were in intensive care.
The chief medical officer at the Department of Health urged employers to facilitate staff to work from home.
“There is an onus on employers to ensure that, in the first instance, staff are encouraged to work from home and in cases where that is not possible, that their workplaces are safe for staff and customers and in full compliance with infection prevention and control measures,” said Dr Tony Holohan.
The head of Nphet’s epidemiological modelling advisory group also signalled that a continued fall in Covid numbers may pave the way for a phased reopening of education from March.
Professor Philip Nolan told RTÉ radio that he hoped the country would be in “a much better place” by March 5, the end date for the current phase of restrictions.
If the current rate of suppression is maintained, daily Covid case numbers could fall to 200-400 by the end of February.
“If we are cautious I think there are certain high priority, lower risk things that we can do in March, April, May that will allow some opening up without a significant increase in the transmission of the virus,” said Prof Nolan.
“I think we can say, given the huge progress that we have made as a community in suppressing the virus, we’re now approaching a level of disease in the community where it would be safe to think about an appropriately phased, cautious reopening of education,” he added.
Also speaking on Sunday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he did not see a “major reopening of the economy” on March 5.
A prolonged suppression of the virus, he said, would see primary schools reopened on a phased basis and construction reopening once cases drop below 1,000 a day.
He signalled, however, that the hospitality sector could not reopen before an increased rollout of the vaccination programme.
Meanwhile the HSE has made an urgent appeal for staff to help deal with “a significant number of residential centres in crisis”.
At least 60 outbreaks were evident in private and public residential care facilities across Cork and Kerry over the weekend.
The appeal follows an increase in the number of Defence Forces personnel being drafted into nursing and other residential care settings.
“We have requested the assistance of the Defence Forces in providing support around cleaning and waste disposal at a number of nursing homes in crisis. This allows our nurses and healthcare assistants to focus on the care of residents and patients,” said a HSE spokesperson.
“Even with that support, we still urgently require more staff, particularly nurses and/or healthcare assistants.”