The Taoiseach has urged people to keep their guard up and remain cautious as families prepare for children in junior and senior infants, as well as first and second classes in primary school to return to school tomorrow.
Children across the city and county will return to the classroom on Monday as part of a return to in-school provision for students at both primary and post-primary level.
Sixth-year Leaving Certificate students will also return tomorrow.
A target date of March 15 has been set for the return to in-school provision of education for the rest of primary school children – third to sixth class, and fifth-year Leaving Certificate students.
It is hoped that the remainder of post-primary students will be able to return to in-school education on April 12.
Speaking to the Echo, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that his message to families as they return their children to school is “one of caution”.
He urged parents not to congregate outside of schools saying, “it’s the most natural thing in the world to congregate outside of school once you drop the kids off but we are saying, on this occasion because of the variant… we have to be very careful for the month of March to get the numbers down.”
He said authorities will be closely watching the reopening of schools, and the impact of this on the spread of the virus.
“That will inform our next decision on March 15 as to the [return to in-school education] for third, fourth, fifth, and sixth class.
“We do want to return them but we will have to evaluate the first phase of the school reopening on the virus, and on the spread of the virus because the public health doctors are very worried about the UK variant and the degree to which it spreads the disease,” he said.
The Taoiseach said the Covid-19 related numbers over the coming weeks will also be considered when the Government reviews the current public health restrictions, which are due remain in place until April 5, when a further review will be conducted.
“The good news is that hospitalisation is coming down, and the amount of severe illness in people getting the virus in nursing homes and hospitals is coming down in terms of staff,” the Taoiseach said.
“I would say to people stick with the guidelines, we will get there and the vaccination programme is helping to come from the other side to suppress the virus as well.”
The Taoiseach acknowledged that the current restrictions are difficult for people, but said it “makes sense” to remain cautious as the vaccination programme is rolled-out.
“I fully understand people are fed-up with lockdown, people are fed-up with the impositions. This is unusual. The virus has upended all our lives for over a year now on and off.
"The vaccination programme will offer very significant protection to the population over time as we vaccinate our people. That’s the hope.
“It makes sense to be cautious whilst we roll-out the vaccination programme., especially for those who are most vulnerable to disease and to illness,” he said.
The Taoiseach added: “Notwithstanding all of the difficulties and challenges we have been one of the fastest countries in Europe to drive down numbers after Christmas so people’s behaviour has worked, it has saved people’s lives, it has saved people from serious illness and it’s worthwhile keeping it going and we’ll review this before April 5.
"We’ll be looking at the numbers towards the end of March and I would say to people, thank you for what you have been doing so far.”