Covid reopening: Mask wearing, social distancing, and vaccine passports to remain

Covid reopening: Mask wearing, social distancing, and vaccine passports to remain

The Government will today unveil its decision on easing public health restrictions from this Friday against a backdrop of rising hospitalisations, increasing Covid case numbers, and growing concern about outbreaks in schools. 

Mask wearing, social distancing, and vaccine passports are set to continue amid the unstable Covid-19 situation.

The Government will today unveil its decision on easing public health restrictions from this Friday against a backdrop of rising hospitalisations, increasing Covid case numbers, and growing concern about outbreaks in schools. 

Wider use of antigen testing is expected to form part of the Government proposals despite public health officials repeatedly expressing reservations. 

Approval has also been given by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) for vaccine boosters for people aged 60 and over.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) met yesterday before sending its advice to the three Government leaders last night, urging against a loosening of restrictions. 

The Nphet advice has been described as "open for interpretation", according to a Government source, but it is expected the deteriorating epidemiological situation will prevent the full reopening that had been envisaged. 

The Nphet letter offered recommendations for sectors of the economy but "left the Government to fill in the blanks and warned there is a risk moving forward".

Cabinet will meet early this morning to sign off on the measures. 

It follows confirmation of 1,578 new cases of the virus, with 484 patients hospitalised, of whom 73 are in intensive care.

'Hit the reset button'

HSE chief Paul Reid said it was "time for us all to hit the reset button".

Taoiseach Micheál Martin signalled the continuation of digital vaccine certs for festivals and indoor hospitality beyond Friday.

Under the original reopening plan, almost all remaining legal restrictions are due to lift on Friday, with pubs and venues back at full capacity, and only limited measures, such as mask wearing on public transport, remaining in place.

Mr Martin said that mask wearing and the continuation of Covid certs for nightclubs and other venues were "items on the agenda" for today's Cabinet meeting.

On antigen testing, the Taoiseach indicated it could play a bigger role in society from this week.

"I'm a strong believer in antigen testing; our public health officials have a more moderated perspective on the value of antigen testing, but some sectors have rolled out antigen testing and that's something that the Government will be considering," said Mr Martin.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said he believed there would still be a significant change in restrictions, but it might not be the full reopening previously expected.

"I expect there will be a removal of quite a number of restrictions on Friday, but it may not be as comprehensive a removal of restrictions as previously planned," said Mr Coveney.

The spike in Covid cases has sent alarm bells ringing in the education sector, with primary school teachers now calling for a return of contact tracing and a rethink on masks for young children.

School forced to close

A primary school in Wexford has been forced to close to in-class learning following 34 confirmed cases. In one class, 19 children tested positive for Covid.

The principal of the CBS primary school, Vicky Barron, said C02 monitors are not a sufficient measure to combat Covid-19 in schools and warned that HSE guidelines are not strong enough to prevent transmission within classrooms and schools.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation wants to see the reintroduction of testing and contact tracing and the expansion of the supply panel for substitute teachers to cover all primary and special schools.

It is also looking for a pilot scheme on antigen testing and an urgent review on the age restriction on face coverings. 

"Time and time again, public health leaders have told us what happens in the community happens in our schools," said a statement from the union.

"With concerns being raised about the spread of the virus in our communities, now is the time to raise our shield once more to protect our schools.

"It is not a sustainable position to expect our schools to operate as normal when infection levels in our communities continue to spiral."

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