Key decisions on what restrictions are likely to be in place for Christmas 2021 are set to be made next week.
NPHET recommended some minor changes on Thursday night, advising that children should not attend “extra-curricular” indoor gatherings such as communions, nativity plays and other seasonal events for at least two weeks.
Furthermore, children in third class or above should now wear masks while in school, according to NPHET, and those aged nine or older should be masked while in areas where face coverings are required by adults.
However, a decision on any major restrictions that may be needed ahead of the festive season is not likely to be made until next Thursday, December 2.
And there are two key changes understood to be under consideration, as this could include new guidelines for both the hospitality sector and household visits, with a reduction in the number of people allowed to visit private homes on the cards, the Irish Independent reports.
Any decision on restrictions next week will depend on the success of previous measures and the level of disease circulating in the community.
It comes after 8,000 cases were recorded in those aged between 0-18 in the last seven days up to Saturday.
Latest data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre showed that there were 7,117 Covid cases confirmed in those aged between five to 18 for the previous seven days until Saturday.
Of those cases, 166 were “confirmed” as being linked to an outbreak in a school or childcare facility. As well as this, recent HSE data shows that there were 30 outbreaks recorded in universities, schools, and childcare facilities last week.
NPHET had also recommended the extension of the Covid pass to all settings where there is high risk of transmission, through close contact or other activities, not yet covered by the current regime.
At a press briefing on Thursday afternoon, Dr Colm Henry said that while keeping schools open is not without risks, it is important for children’s overall health and wellbeing that schools remain open.
He said: “I would say the lesson we learned here… is that the closure of schools caused great harm. Covid can be acquired in school settings but school settings have become much more controlled.”
“The current Covid wave looks to be plateauing at a worrying high level,” he told party colleagues.
“We do not want to be going into Christmas with this high a plateau.”
Mr Varadkar said efforts would focus on avoiding Christmas restrictions, although he recently refused to rule out extra measures.
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He said: “The Covid trajectory is uncertain at the moment, but everything will be done to prevent a Christmas lockdown.”
He added that “his sense” is people are responding positively to the guidelines with fewer personal contacts in a bid to stop the current wave.
However, in another update this week, Mr Varadkar said on Tuesday evening that he could not guarantee that more measures would not be implemented.
“We certainly can’t rule out the reintroduction of further restrictions over the next couple of weeks – but we do want to avoid that,” he said.
“In the last couple of days we’ve seen the positivity rate starting to level off, perhaps the cases are also starting to level off but it’s too early to say that now.
“We’d like to give it another week or two to see how things go, but unfortunately it’s not possible to rule out anything at this stage.
“We will as a government seek to avoid reimposing extreme restrictions if we can at all.”
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