Level Five restrictions could remain in place until May with very few restrictions likely to be eased next month.
Public health officials last night briefed the Cabinet COVID-19 Sub-Committee on plans for the reopening of schools.
Several ministers who attended the briefing described the advice as incredibly cautious.
The final date for reopening has yet to be formally agreed; however, Leaving Cert students are likely to return on March 1st along with junior and senior infants.
Some classes will return during March, with others returning on a phased basis every two or three weeks out into April.
Multiple ministers admitted that there is a good chance that not all students will be back in classrooms by Easter.
Speaking last night, the chair of NPHET’s COVID-19 modelling group Professor Philip Nolan warned that the reopening of schools should not be taken as a sign that people can start socialising again.
“The important thing is that we don’t relax and we don’t see any changes that occur in the coming weeks around the phased reopening of education as a signal for the rest of us to start socialising on the margins of that,” he said.
“I think that is the most important thing.”
It comes as NPHET admitted that the reduction in hospitalisations and case figures appears to have slowed down.
The number of new cases has remained near 1,000 per day for the last week, despite the lockdown.
NPHET officials now estimate that the country will face 200 to 350 cases a day by mid-March – up from last week's prediction of 100 to 300.
Meanwhile the number of new COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital appears to have plateaued at around 50 per day.
Multiple sources also playing down next week's announcement of a revised living with COVID plan.
"We're not going to have much to announce" says one Minister with life set to continue to be heavily restricted
— Seán Defoe (@SeanDefoe) February 18, 2021
Construction wasn't formally discussed at last night's meeting; however, a number of people present said they don't see NPHET giving it the go-ahead.
It's expected very few restrictions will ease in the short term, with Level Five potentially lasting until May.
Pay supports, like the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and Wage Subsidy Scheme will likely be extended until June, with no significant re-opening for many sectors before then.
The one ray of positive news at the meeting was the confirmation from HSE boss Paul Reid and Vaccine Taskforce Chair Brian MacCraith that more than one million vaccinations could be happening per month from April.
Additional reporting Michael Staines