Micheál Martin says schools won’t fully reopen before St Patrick’s Day

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin has confirmed that schools will not fully reopen before St Patrick’s Day, adding that the first priority is reopening schools for special needs children.

He said special education could return in February and that there was a failure in delivering on their return to school but unions acted in good faith”, and there is a “shared determination” to do something for families with children with special needs.

Speaking to to Brendan O’ Connor on RTÉ radio, Mr Martin said that all one million school students won’t be back before St Patrick’s Day.

He said with this large number “we are going to have to look at it differently”.

The idea of mobilising one million people was the main reason not to open them.

Mr Martin said schools are safe but the movement of people around them is the big issue.

“Because of where we are now in terms of the pandemic the idea of mobilising one million people was the main reason not to open them.”

One the reopening of special education, he added: “I would like to think in the coming weeks there would be some movement on it.”

Leaving Cert

The Government has come under increasing pressure to provide clarity on the Leaving Cert, from Opposition parties, teachers and parents.

Mr Martin promised a decision would be made soon, adding: ”There is a range of options that have to be examined.”

Vaccines

The Taoiseach also warned that Covid vaccines for over 70s could be delayed due to issues with the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

He said delays in receiving the vaccine will “put us in a problem”.

“AstraZeneca was going to be the catalyst to allow us to move from low level to mass vaccination.”

He said the Government is still aiming to be at the point of mass vaccination by the second quarter of 2021 and that April, May and June are key months in terms of the vaccination rollout.

Mr Martin said delivery of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was still in line with planned timelines and that other vaccines will be available in time including the Johnson & Johnson version.

He said by this Sunday half of all frontline healthcare workers will be vaccinated.

New Covid variants

Expressing his worry with the emergence of the new variants and whether they might undermine the efficacy of vaccines, he said that was focused on at the European council meeting of EU leaders earlier this week.

He said it is a race against time with on the one hand the vaccination rollout and on the other the variants and if they will “undermine the efficacy of vaccines”.

Restrictions

Mr Martin said case numbers have to be well below what they are now, in the 100s, for current restrictions to ease adding that the new variant is his concern.

“It will become the dominant variant. It is at 62 per cent of all cases.”

Accounts of “whole wards getting infected” and HSE personnel saying they haven’t experienced this in the entire 10 months of the pandemic are of deep concern, Mr Martin said.

“By the summer we will be in a changed environment because of the large-scale vaccination that will have been achieved by then.”

Defending the relaxing of restrictions at Christmas, he said “we didn’t see the variant coming”.

Mr Martin said we have to learn from this and said he would be more cautious going forward.

However, he said decisions that have been made to date included taking mental health and domestic violence issues into consideration, referring to those “calls going through the roof” and also stress among children and parents.

 



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