TAOISEACH Micheál Martin has praised the ‘resilience’ of the people of Cork as the country moves into a new phased easing of the Covid-19 public health restrictions.
From today, all remaining students are returning to school, and two households can meet up outdoors for social purposes, but not in private gardens.
The 5km travel limit is now relaxed to allow people to travel within their own county, or within 20km of their home if crossing county boundaries, while the construction of residential properties and of early learning and childcare projects can resume as well.
Speaking to The Echo, Mr Martin said the gradual easing of restrictions is a “positive” move and “just reward” for the progress made in recent weeks.
“It is important to ease the restrictions on movement for people,” he said.
“The hard work and resilience displayed by the Cork public over many months is working. People’s efforts have borne fruit.”
Returning all pupils to schools was a “key objective” for the Coalition.
“It is great to have the remaining secondary school pupils back today. It is great news for the parents and the students themselves. That was a key objective for us in recent weeks to get all the primary and secondary school pupils back into schools,” Mr Martin said.
“It is vital to have the schools open. We were determined nothing would undermine our full efforts to get the schools reopened,” he said.
“It is important to get students back into a routine.
“The removal of the 5km [limit] will also make a big difference for people psychologically. To travel within their county once again is a big boost for people. Given the current weather and the longer evenings, getting people outdoors will be beneficial.
“House construction is also back today which is welcome.
“We are on the right track.”
Mr Martin also thanked the Cork public for “staying the course”, which has resulted in a gradual decrease in positive Covid-19 cases and deaths in recent days.
“Figures in Cork are very good. Cork has been consistently strong in the last month. I want to thank people for staying the course and bearing with us. This has been very difficult for everyone. I want to acknowledge the role everybody has played,” he said.
“The hospital numbers are well down nationally. We wanted to take pressure off the system and we have achieved that. The numbers in ICU are also well down, which is very encouraging.
“Real, significant progress has been made. We need to keep this going. People need to avoid large gatherings and obey the guidelines. We can’t afford to get complacent.”
Mr Martin said the vaccine rollout is playing a big role in helping to reduce the number of positive Covid-19 cases.
“I think April will be a significant month for vaccinations,” he said.
“We will be driving it on with people over the age of 60 and those with underlying health conditions. There is a greater sense of protection out there now which is reassuring for people. We can see that in the numbers from nursing homes and from the frontline healthcare workers and indeed within the over-70s in general as the numbers have come away down.”
The Taoiseach said further announcements will be made with regard to easing restrictions in the coming weeks. “We will examine everything a week before the end of April and we will make a further announcement. We are determined that anything we will open from now on will stay open,” he said.
Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn welcomed the fact that the 303 Covid-19 cases reported yesterday was the lowest figure since mid-December. “There are many reasons for hope as we head into a new week,” he said.
“Encouragingly, we had the lowest number of people newly hospitalised with Covid-19 since the end of November and last week the millionth vaccine was given,” he said.
Meanwhile, as the remaining cohort of secondary school pupils returns today, Coláiste Chríost Rí principal Pádraig Mac An Rí said: “It is great news for the parents and the students. I am looking forward to seeing the smiling faces and hearing more noise in our corridors.”