Ireland’s prime minister Micheal Martin has confirmed the country will continue at the highest level of coronavirus restrictions until at least 5 April.
The Taoiseach said there will be a difference in the current Level 5 restrictions, with the phased reopening of schools from 1 March.
The government’s revised Living With COVID plan will also see the reopening of childcare start from 8 March and some non-COVID related health services will also resume.
Mr Martin said the situation will be reviewed on 5 April.
The next phase is set to include outdoor gatherings, some sporting activities, the gradual reopening of construction and movement on the 5k limit on non-essential journeys.
He said Ireland is “driving down the levels of infection”, but the emergence of the UK variant has made the situation very different to what it was several months ago.
The B117 variant – or the “Kent variant” – now accounts for 90% of new infections in Ireland, the Irish PM said.
“The truth is that it has changed the dynamic significantly and we need to be very careful as we take the next steps forward,” he added.
Mr Martin said it is “critically important” that people do not let their guard down.
“When we open things, we want them to stay open, that is why I cannot overemphasise the importance of continued observance of Level 5 restrictions.”
Turning to the vaccination programme, the Taoiseach said more than 350,000 doses had been administered and a “major ramping up” would commence.
This would include small local GP surgeries and pharmacists, and community and regional vaccination centres.
“We are implementing a programme of vaccination on a scale that is unprecedented in the country’s history,” Micheal Martin said.
“By the end of March, we will have administered 1.25 million doses, then depending on vaccines arriving as scheduled, we would administer on average more than one million doses per month during April, May and June.”
He said they aim to have administered first doses to 40% of people over the age of 18 by the end of April, 64% by the end of May and up to 82% of adults by the end of June.
All those working from home have been told they must continue to do so.
“We want to reopen society as soon and as safely as possible, so if we can maintain downward pressure on the disease and keep our numbers low we will then move into the next phase,” he said.