Lockdown could be in place for another nine weeks

Lockdown could be in place for another nine weeks

Garda members on Covid-19 level 5 travel restirction checkpoint duty at Cork Airport. Picture Dan Linehan

Ireland could be facing lockdown restrictions for another nine weeks, after the Minister for Finance warned that the Government's exit plan will be "gradual".

Paschal Donohoe said that, while the plan is at the early stages, the country is still grappling with high numbers of people in intensive care and hospitals.

It comes after Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that "severe" lockdown measures will be in place until the end of April.

Mr Martin told a newspaper that the reopening of pubs restaurants, as well as hairdressers may be pushed further into the year.

The Taoiseach also warned that there will be few changes when the Government announces the revised Living With Covid-19 plan next week.

Mr Donohoe on Friday said the Government's plan to exit the restrictions will be gradual.

"Our focus, for now, is how we can get most of our schools full again of young girls and boys getting the education they need and deserve," Mr Donohoe added.

"What the Government is, only at this stage considering, is what that exit path is.

"I am so aware of the challenges that so many face at the moment, both socially and from a mental health point of view, and economically.

"The Government is also grappling with very high numbers of people who are still in our intensive care and is still in our hospitals.

"This is why the vaccination programme that we have on the way is so critical, we are just over 50 days into the vaccination programme.

"We have 6,000 trained vaccinators with ten of thousands of successful vaccinations complete."

He said there is the potential for a significant increase in supply in April, May and June.

Mr Donohoe said it would make a difference to the public health service.

"But we still do need to be careful, we saw what happened in January," he warned.

"The possibility of further ways of this disease, driven by how the disease is mutating, means that the threat to our public health is still there.

"I know how difficult these words are but our priority continues to be what we can do to protect the health of our country."

Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty said his party will back the public health advice.

However, he was critical of the Taoiseach's decision to make the announcement about ongoing restrictions to a newspaper on Thursday.

"It's not the way to communicate with people who are making huge sacrifices right across the State," Mr Doherty added.

"I think it comes as a hammer blow to people, it sucks the life out of them to be communicated in that way, to see a headline that we're in for another nine weeks of restrictions.

"We have seen the extension of restrictions in the North by the Executive, and this is an opportunity to be in sync on an all-island basis and I think it's really important that we do this in step together as much as possible across the island of Ireland."

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