Covid-19 in Ireland: The Path Ahead

The Government has announced its new ‘Living with Covid-19’ plan, with clarity being brought on the phased reopening of the education sector, vaccination rollout and the path out of lockdown.

Up he stepped to the podium, once again ready to deliver an address to the whole country. A weary nation awaited, praying Taoiseach Micheal Martin had something to say for them to cling onto for the months ahead.

By the end of his speech, work from home parents rejoiced, students had dates in the diaries for their return to school to once again be reunited with their friends and the whole country was offered a strong glimmer of hope in the form of the vaccination roll-out.

Following his address to the nation, the full plan was published and while Level 5 public health restrictions will remain in place until 5 April, the education sector will begin to open up in the mean time. Here’s what is in the new Living With Covid-19 Plan:

Education

From Monday 1 March, junior infants, senior infants, first and second class in primary’s school will return.

Leaving Cert students in sixth year in secondary schools will also return on this date.

Two weeks later, on 15 March, all primary school children will return. Fifth year students in secondary school are also expected to return at this point.

The remainder of secondary school students will return after the Easter holidays all going to plan.

Vaccination Rollout

1.25 million doses of Covid-19 Vaccines will be administered by the end of March.

On average, more than 1 million doses will be administered in the months of April, May and June.

By the end of April, 47% of people over the age of 18 will have received at least their first dose of the vaccine.

By the end of May, up to 64% of people over the age of 18 will have received their first dose.

By the end of June, some 82% of adults will have received at least one dose and around 60% of adults will be fully vaccinated.

Childcare

From Monday 8 March, Early Childhood Care and Education programme will reopen. 

On the 29 March, early learning and care will reopen. School-age childcare services will also reopen on this date.

After 5 April

The easing of restrictions will be considered on 5 April if community transmission of the virus, daily cases, covid-19 hospital numbers reach acceptable levels. With this taken in to account together with the vaccine rollout some restrictions that may be eased on that date include:

  • Extending the 5km limit that is currently in place
  • Removing restrictions on some outdoor activities and allowing mixing with 1 other household.
  • Return of construction and some sports.

Any further easing of restrictions after 5 April will need a further three to four week period to allow for assessment of the impact of changes, the plan outlines. 

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Teen to cycle 775km in loving memory of his nanny & in support of his grieving grandad

Philip Killeen, 16, is cycling 775km to give hope to his grandad following the loss of his wife to cancer.

775km is no random figure either, it is the distance from Philip’s family home in Galway to his grandparents home in the UK. Unfortunately, it was the length of a journey that Philip’s family could not make for their Granny’s funeral due to the ongoing pandemic.

Mary Killeen died of cancer eight weeks ago in King’s College Hospital in London. She left behind her grieving husband, Seán Killeen who is 85 years of age.

Video by Eleanor Mannion, RTE.

Sean met Mary some 63 years ago in Galway. They eventually emigrated to London, where they have remained since.

If losing his wife wasn’t bad enough, to not have his family by his side at the funeral was equally upsetting. As Sean explained “I would have liked if my son and my other daughter was there standing at the graveside. It didn’t happen like that, you know. It’s unreal. It’s not right.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a major impact on funerals. People no longer have the comfort of having their whole family around them. Sean’s case was no exception and sadly for his family back in Galway, there was no livestream of the funeral.

Seeing his grandad so upset gave his grandson Philip inspiration to offer him some hope. Philip decided he’d cycle the length of the journey from Galway to London while remaining within lockdown limits.

Philip is keeping track of his progress for his ‘My Cycle for Nanny’ challenge on @mycyclefornanny on Instagram.

He is fundraising through a dedicated GoFundMe page for Cancer Care West – https://ie.gofundme.com/f/cycling-for-my-nanny-and-cancer-awareness

This story exemplifies the major sacrifices families are making during the pandemic. Long periods without being able to hug loved ones and but also being unable to attend funerals for loved ones. However, in the case of Philip, it also shows that even in the darkest of days, there is always hope.

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Special schools to reopen on 11 February

Special schools will reopen from the 11th February, with classes in mainstream schools for pupils with special needs will reopen on Monday, 22nd February.

An agreement was finally reached yesterday evening by the Department of Education with Fórsa and INTO, the two trade unions who represent special needs assistants (SNAs).

The plans now mean that special schools will reopen at a 50% capacity on 11 February. Special classes based within mainstream schools will reopen for all students on 22 February.

The plans with information regarding the reopening of these special education settings is to be circulated to schools today. It is believed significantly enhanced safety measures will be put in place for students and staff.

Measures will include PPE equipment, a limit of the number of people in classrooms at any one time and provisions for SNAs and teachers who are in the high-risk category should they contract Covid-19.

Talks remain ongoing for reopening of the rest of schools across the country.

The news of the reopening of special education settings will no doubt delight parents of kids with special needs who have been left to fend in the most part by themselves. For these children, school is an essential life-support and service. A lack of routine can cause children to regress and lose basic life skills that have taken years to build up.

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Production of unmanned fighter jets to create 100 jobs in Belfast

A £30 million contract, spread across 3 years to build prototype combat aircraft will create 100 new jobs in Belfast.

The aircraft will be unmanned and designed to fly at high speed alongside manned fighter jets. The prototypes will be armed with missiles, state of the art surveillance technology and electronic warfare technology. The new aircraft has been nicknamed the “loyal wingman”.

Spirit AeroSystems, based in Belfast, will lead the development team in the next phase of the project. The team will further develop the RAF’s Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) concept, with a full-scale vehicle flight-test programme expected by the end of 2023.

The Ministry for Defence have said the Loyal Wingman will be the UK’s first uncrewed aircraft which will have the capabilities to target and shoot down enemy aircraft and survive against surface-to-air missiles.

A visualisation of the ‘loyal wingman’.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis welcomed the news saying “This is fantastic news and underlines the distinct strengths in Northern Ireland’s economy, through its advanced engineering and manufacturing capabilities.”

“This ground-breaking project will involve significant investment which will not only support local employment, but also reinforce Northern Ireland’s contribution to the security of our nation.”

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