Level 5 restrictions look set to remain in place until April, with tight restrictions continuing until at least early May.
The Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 met representatives of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) on Thursday evening as Ministers continued to work on finalising the Government’s revised “Living with Covid-19” plan.
Sources told The Irish Times that no further easing of restrictions is likely to be announced beyond the phased return of schools from early March.
Nphet told the committee that the phased reopening of schools was “about the limit of what they can support” in a “very, very cautious” presentation, sources said.
One senior source said it was now “out of the question” that restrictions would be eased to allow people to meet outdoors.
Outdoor sports are unlikely to resume, while any reopening of the construction sector is also unlikely to be supported by NPHET.
The plan is expected to include a phased re-opening of schools beginning with Leaving Cert students and younger primary school pupils.
Junior infants to second class could return in first phase of re-opening, and third to sixth in the second phase a few weeks later.
At secondary level sixth year students could return first, followed by third and fifth years a few weeks later. The remainder of students could possibly return in April, sources said.
The plan will have to be approved by the full Cabinet next week.
NPHET is seeking a cautious and slow return to the classroom with time between each phase to assess its impact, deputy chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn told a media briefing last night.
He urged people not to take the partial re-opening of schools as a signal that increased movement or inter-household mingling was acceptable once again.
On Thursday evening, the State’s public health team warned of a plateau in the fight against Covid-19.
The number of contacts of confirmed new cases of Covid-19 is “drifting upwards” while test positivity rates and hospital admissions are “plateauing”, officials said.