Government pandemic powers are set to be extended with new legislation to be rushed through the Oireachtas in the coming days, as Ministers face the prospect of new Covid restrictions until the middle of next year.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin briefed the Cabinet on Tuesday on the current situation with the pandemic, telling Ministers that infections were “high but relatively stable”, a Government spokesman told The Irish Times.
While people had reduced socialising, Mr Martin said the decline needed to be maintained.
This has raised expectations in 'some political quarters' that the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) may recommend further restrictions after its meeting on Thursday.
The Cabinet approved a number of new measures to deal with the ongoing fourth wave of the virus and the threat of the new Omicron variant.
These include the requirement for travellers into Ireland to show clear PCR or antigen tests, mask wearing for primary school children from third class up, and asking parents to reduce their children's socialising.
On Tuesday night, the chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, in a letter to parents, warned there had been “a significant and rapid deterioration in the epidemiological situation, and a resultant very high incidence in the as-yet-unvaccinated five-to-11-year-old age group”.
The Government has strongly denied suggestions that schools could close early before Christmas, or that they could remain closed in January after the Christmas break like last year.
Mr Martin told the Dáil the target for schools was to get to the Christmas break, recalibrate and “review how we deal with the next semester”.
Two pieces of legislation will come before the Dáil and the Seanad in the coming days - one to extend Covid powers and one to revive mandatory hotel quarantine if needed.
Mandatory hotel quarantine legislation has already lapsed while the other Covid powers are due to expire early next year.
The proposal is to extend the powers - including those concerning masks, hospitality restrictions, Covid certificates, travel restrictions and others - until March 31st, 2022. They will also be further extendable for one three-month period with Oireachtas approval.