IRELAND HAS been under Level 5 restrictions for close to three months but we're not even close to being out of the woods yet.
The spread of the British B117 Covid-19 variant, which now makes up more than 90% of cases in Ireland, means the country is having an extremely difficult time keeping numbers down.
Despite household visits being banned, people unable to go further than 5km frm their homes and all non-essential businesses closed, the numbers of daily reported cases are in the mid-to-high hundreds-- and the death rate also remains high.
The vaccine rollout has begun in Ireland but ongoing issues-- particularly with supply-- means it is slow going.
Ireland had been due to lift some restrictions in February, then March, then April-- but with the continued high number of cases, a review of the Level 5 restrictions due to be lifted on 5 April is unlikely to bring any significant easing.
Which restrictions will be eased in April?
It is likely that most restrictions will remain in place from the next six-week period from 5 April to mid-May.
This is due to the continued high number of cases and the prevalence of the more transmissible B117 variant.
However, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have said that some restrictions could be eased in April, including the easing of the 5km rule which would allow people to go a bit further from their home.
Allowing people to meet outdoors and the return of the construction industry are also being looked at before the April 5 deadline is reviewed.
What will happen with schools in April?
Some schoolchildren have already returned to the classroom, and with a return to in-person education a priority of the government, all students are expected to be back at school before too long.
As of 1 March, all junior infants, senior infants, first and second class as well as Leaving Certificates (sixth years) have returned to the class rooms, and special education schools increased their capacity from 50% to 100%.
From 8 March, preschools returned.
From 15 March, third, fourth, fifth and sixth class return to school, meaning primary schools are fully returned.
Also on 15 March, fifth year students return to school.
From 29 March, early learning and care as well as child-minding services for children up to the age of 14 are allowed to return.
Finally, from 12 April, first, second, third and fourth year students can return to secondary schools; at this point all secondary and primary school students will have returned to school.
The continued phased reopening of schools depends on the number of cases and any outbreaks which may occur.
What have the government said about easing restrictions in April?
At the start of March, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told his colleagues that, aside from a few limited exceptions, "no further easing of restrictions will be considered until the end of April or early May," according to the Irish Mirror.
This has proved to be the case unfortunately, and Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil just yesterday that they must continue to take a "very conservative and cautious approach" because the B117 strain of the virus "creates a different situation".
Both the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach suggested that an easing of the 5km rule, some outdoor activities and the return of construction could be the only rules eased in April.
When is the next date the lockdown is supposed to end?
The next phase of restrictions will last from 5 April for six weeks, so until mid-May. It is likely that the government will review how the country is doing numbers-wise around a week before the mid-May deadline to see if it is safe to ease restrictions at that point.
When will lockdown end?
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told Morning Ireland in February that there are four things the country must do before lockdown can be lifted.
He said that the Government will be assessing:
- The R number
- The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital
- The pace of the vaccine rollout
- The influence of new variants