Some degree of on-campus college and higher education will return in September, according to the Minister for Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris. Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast on Thursday morning, Harris suggested that the country will be a ‘very, very different place by the start of the next academic year.

“While I can’t be overly prescriptive now, what I can say is I expect a lot more on-site activity in the new college year and we will spell out what we believe that looks like in the early summer,” Harris told Newstalk. However, Harris was cautious to say that these ‘best laid plans’ could still be disrupted by COVID-19.

Easing restrictions

Harris suggested that he was optimistic that there could be some easing of restrictions next month, as “the 5km limit is driving people absolutely bonkers”.

“The 5km in an urban community is very different – you might not get to the end of a field in a rural community,” Harris said. “I think we need to look at how we can help people live with low-risk activities and doing things outdoors we know is safer than doing things indoors.”

Despite his optimism, Harris remained realistic about what the immediate future would look like in terms of restrictions. “Let’s be honest, we are not going to be in a position to do a huge amount more in April, we have to truthful on that,” Harris said. “But I would like to see us begin to spell out what the months of May, June and July might look like as we begin to see the vaccine programme really ramp up.”

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On Wednesday night, health officials announced 683 further cases of the virus and 18 new virus-related deaths, six of which happened in March. The 14-day rate of the virus in Ireland is 159.3 cases per 100,000 people, while the five-day moving average stands at 573.

“I genuinely believe and I don’t mind saying it that as a Government, we are going to have to, in the coming days, begin talking to people about what the way out of this looks like,” Harris said. “We can’t just keep telling people what they can’t do.”

Stephen Kisbey-Green – Co-Editor