Level 5 restrictions will remain in place until at least April 5 at which point they will be reviewed under the Government’s new Living with Covid-19 plan.
The Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 has agreed to leave the highest level of restrictions in place for another six weeks over concerns about the continuously high rate of new coronavirus cases.
There are no other dates for easing restrictions in the Government’s new plan, according to those involved in drafting it.
The plan will set out a target of vaccinating 250,000 people a week from the start of April.
Meanwhile, up to 330,000 students are expected to return to classrooms next Monday under plans agreed by the Cabinet committee.
It is hoped that Leaving Cert students along with children in junior infants, senior infants, first class and second class will resume classes on March 1 following a full Cabinet meeting tomorrow.
However Health Minister Stephen Donnelly cast doubt over first and second classes returning when he appeared on Claire Byrne Live this evening, saying it was not a done deal, despite junior education minister Josepha Madigan announcing this earlier today.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1 this afternoon, Ms Madigan said first and second class pupils would return to school on March 1 along with junior and senior infants and Leaving Certificate students.
However, a few hours later Mr Donnelly said the Government was still in talks with unions to confirm that this cohort of classes will return to school next Monday.
"Coming on the show tonight I double-checked exactly where we were... but what I was told as of two hours ago was actually Minister Foley is still in negotiations with the unions on this and Cabinet hopes to be in a position to announce something on this tomorrow,” he said.
He defended Ms Madigan, saying she probably made the announcement in “good faith” and that a spanner to this plan was only thrown in the works after her interview.
"I absolutely can (understand frustration) and there's no one more frustrated than Minister Foley, she has been engaged with all the education partners and we want to get this over the line and hopefully those talks can conclude in a positive way tonight or tomorrow morning.”
When asked if the teaching unions had raised concerns about these classes returning on Monday, Mr Donnely said yes.
“I’m not saying it's probably not going to happen but Josepha Madigan said that in good faith and my understanding is recently something would have happened and those talks are ongoing.
“It’s not Jospeha Madigan's fault she would have been given the information.”
Meanwhile the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) service will return on March 8 after being suspended in January.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will review the impact of thousands of children returning to schools before the Government decide to send any more pupils back to classrooms.
However, Education Minister Norma Foley hopes the remainder of primary school children along with fifth and third year secondary school pupils will return in the latter half of March. However, this will be dependent on public health advice.
The Government’s new Living with Covid-19 Plan is expected to contain very little good news for the public with ministers and their advisers insisting they will not offer any clarity on when restrictions will be eased.
It comes as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a detailed roadmap for England to exit lockdown over the coming months.
But sources in Government Buildings insisted the Irish plan will not contain dates as research shows compliance with restrictions drops when dates are given.
Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien is pushing for some construction work to be permitted in the coming weeks.
Mr O’Brien wants work on social housing to resume along with private home completions. However, there is concern in Cabinet about the impact of reopening big construction sites due the movement of workers, especially when many would be travelling between counties to get to work.
It is widely expected the new Living with Covid-19 Plan will see the current Level 5 restrictions extended until at least April but mostly likely up until the start of May.
There is a push from some ministers to ease the 5km travel ban and allow people to meet up in groups outdoors next month.
However, a very cautious approach is being taken by Taoiseach Micheál Martin after the easing of restrictions at Christmas resulted in a wave of new Covid-19 cases and hundreds of people dying from the virus.
Significant emphasis will be focused on the national vaccination programme which the Government hopes will be ramped up to one million jabs a month by April and beyond. The number of people vaccinated will also be a key factor in deciding when restrictions can be eased.
It is hoped all healthcare workers and over-70s will have received their two jabs by mid-May and this will give the Government more room to ease regulations.
Meanwhile, England’s coronavirus restrictions could finally be lifted by June 21 as part of a four-stage plan, Boris Johnson has announced as he declared “the end really is in sight”.
In the first phase, all pupils in England’s schools are expected to return to class from March 8, with wider use of face masks and testing in secondary schools.
Socialising in parks and public spaces with one other person will also be permitted from that date.
A further easing of restrictions will take place on March 29 when the school Easter holidays begin - with larger groups of up to six people or two households allowed to gather in parks and gardens.
Other measures in the road map set out by the prime minister include:
- From April 12 at the earliest: shops, hairdressers, nail salons, libraries, outdoor attractions and outdoor hospitality venues such as beer gardens will reopen.
- From May 17 at the earliest, two households or groups of up to six people will be allowed to mix indoors and crowds of up to 10,000 in the largest venues will be allowed at performances and sporting events.