IRELAND'S SCHOOLS are set to reopen on a phased basis in February and at the start of March, according to Leo Varadkar.
The Tánaiste said the reopening would begin with students with special needs, followed by primary school pupils and those in key exam years such as Leaving Certs.
Nothing is confirmed yet, however, as talks with schools, teachers and unions are still ongoing.
"We want to discuss this with principals, unions, parents and student groups," Varadkar told RTÉ's Claire Byrne Live on Monday evening.
"It has to be done by agreement, but we are very keen to start with children with additional needs, they need their education and some of them are regressing now which is worrying."
Varadkar went on to say that because the new Covid-19 variant is more transmissible than the original strain of the virus, he wanted schools to open "not with one big bang, but on a phased basis".
Stopping short of specifying how low daily Covid cases would have to get in order to authorise the reopening of schools, the former Taoiseach said that the government was "reasonably confident that by the middle of February we will be down to daily case rates that were there when schools were fully open."
He said that case numbers were halving every 10 days or so, so it was "reasonable" to assume that next month would be an appropriate time to start sending kids back to school.
The Fine Gael leader added that one of his "big regrets" from Ireland's first lockdown was that the government "didn't do what other countries did and keep schools open for vulnerable children".