CABINET WILL TODAY sign off on the reopening plan for college and university campuses for the next academic year.
Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris will bring the plan to Cabinet for reopening third level education for the 2021/22 academic year, which will see mainly on-site activity for all students and staff.
At a minimum, the plan sets out that laboratory teaching, classroom-based teaching, tutorials, workshops and smaller lectures can take place on site.
College offices and workplaces, as well as libraries, will also be reopened.
Meanwhile, canteens, sports facilities, clubs and societies as well as bars can also reopen in accordance with public health advice.
It is envisaged that large-scale lectures will also be allowed.
Institutions will be asked to prepare for this with a further report to Government in July.
The sector is also expected to build a robust system to facilitate and support the vaccination programme for students and staff, as well as the promoting of symptom awareness among students, learners and staff.
Colleges will also be expected to have supports for symptomatic students and staff, such as possible PCR testing.
Rapid antigen testing may potentially be a significant element of this system, it is understood.
If proven through piloting and feasibility studies, the benefits of rapid testing could provide an additional element to the control strategy set out in national guidance.
In addition, there will be provision for further and higher education and training, including on-site presence for apprentices, English language education, and the resumption of research activity, over the summer months.
Appropriate protective measures will be in place and numbers on site will be controlled.
This approach to returning on-site over the summer period will assist institutions and providers in organising and managing the safe return of larger numbers in the autumn.
Separately, Cabinet is to consider doubling home quarantine to 10 days for unvaccinated people travelling from Britain to Ireland.
Yesterday, The Journal reported that Cabinet is set to recommend the lifting of existing quarantine requirements for travellers from Britain who have received both doses of a vaccine.
At present, passengers arriving to the country from Britain are requested to quarantine at a home address for 14 days on arrival here, but can exit quarantine with a negative Covid-19 PCR test result after five days.
Under the new rules under consideration, people arriving into Ireland who are not fully vaccinated will be requested to quarantine at a home address for 10 days on arrival here, with a second PCR test taken after the ten-day period, rather than the current five days.
There are no restrictions in place for travel into or out of Northern Ireland to and from Britain, as long as passengers are travelling within the UK. There are currently no restrictions in place for inter-county travel on the island of Ireland.
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Senior government sources say the measures are being introduced to “slow down” and “delay” the spread of the Delta variant and to ensure more people can get the second vaccine dose before the variant becomes dominant.
They said it is “inevitable” that a more transmissible strain will become dominant, just as the B117 variant did, but also noted that there will continue to be more variants emerging, and the government will keep a watchful eye on the hospitalisation and ICU numbers as well as any marked increase in deaths, rather than the main focus being on case numbers.
On a separate matter, Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys will today inform the Cabinet that she has lifted emergency visa requirements imposed on passport holders from a number of countries.
An order was signed in January to require nationals from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, South Africa, Suriname and Uruguay to be in possession of a valid Irish visa when landing in the State.
That order will be lifted with immediate effect today, meaning that necessary travel can resume for nationals from the above countries.
However, public health measures still remain in place for all those arriving into Ireland and the Irish Government strongly advises against unnecessary international travel to Ireland.
Arrivals – regardless of nationality or passport held – from the countries subject to today’s decision will still be required to enter mandatory hotel…