IRELAND'S Health Minister has said it is likely that a decision on whether to reopen schools will be made on Wednesday.
The Government made the decision to postpone to reopening of schools following the Christmas break until next Monday, January 11.
But with the HSE predicting that case numbers will reach more than 7,000 this week, speculation persists that schools will remain shut for longer.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said on Monday that public health officials had not made a recommendation to keep schools closed, but that discussion on the issue are ongoing.
He told RTÉ's News at One: "We have to allow the experts time they need to examine the latest evidence.
"The Cabinet meets on Wednesday night but again on Thursday. We have to wait until Wednesday or Thursday before there's a decision in relation to this.
"There are ongoing conversations obviously across government, and with the public health team.
Mr Donnelly acknowledged that parents, teachers and students need clarity on the issue as soon as possible.
He said: "Now I understand, I'm a dad myself, I've got three young children. I'm in the same position as a lot of people listening right now.
"I understand people need clarity. Parents want clarity, students want clarity, teachers and principals, obviously, they want clarity and they want as much notice as possible.
"That is right and proper that they would seek those things.
"These are big calls that have a major impact on people's lives and we know from the first lockdown and make a big impact on the children, particularly children from lower-income areas.
He added: "We need to make the decision based on the most up-to-date information we have, and as you appreciate and your listeners will appreciate, it's a rapidly evolving situation.
"So yes, we want to strike a balance between giving the schools and the parents and the students as much time as possible, and making sure that we're making the decision with the most up-to-date advice."
Earlier on Monday, Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman said the Government wants to avoid a "large-scale" shutdown of schools, but that closures are being kept under review.
Mr O'Gorman said the long shutdown of schools at the beginning of the pandemic was not good for children.
He added that health guidance from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) states that childcare settings and schools are safe.
Mr O'Gorman said the decision was taken to reduce movement this week.
"The public health guidance has always been that childcare settings are safe and that continues to be the public health guidance," he told RTÉ Morning Ireland.
"They are safe because of the huge work that childcare providers and professionals have undertaken since the reopening to make sure the various health measures for creches and childcare facilities are implemented.
"The levels of incidence of Covid in schools and creches have been low compared to other sectors of society.
"The advice from Nphet is that schools are safe to open. The Government took a decision last week, that in light of the particularly high levels of Covid, we want to make a sustained effort to reduce movement this week and as such the reopening of schools was postponed.
"That situation is under constant review. We have always expressed the view that we want to keep childcare facilities and schools open."