Childcare providers are calling for more clarity on the definition of frontline and essential workers, the day before they have been asked to reopen to cater for priority groups.

Early Childhood Ireland and the Federation of Early Childhood Providers say their members believe the list of essential workers is too broad to allow them to prioritise who can attend childcare services from tomorrow.

On Friday the Government said childcare services, including childminders, could reopen on 4 January ahead of school reopening on 11 January, to provide care for children, particularly those in priority groups.

Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman also appealed to parents to "leave places" for frontline and priority groups in the coming week and hold off on sending their children back to childcare as part of what he described the "national effort to reduce close contacts".

The restart of the ECCE programme, which is delivered by over 4,000 services nationwide and to more than 100,000 children, was delayed in line with schools reopening on 11 January.

The childcare groups say both providers and parents are nervous about the reopening of services and that staffing levels are difficult to predict due to the spread of the virus and the extension of school holidays.

They also say that their members want to be higher up the priority list for receiving the Covid-19 vaccine

In a statement, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth said it appreciates that "this is a difficult and stressful time for childcare providers, their staff, and for parents".

It said it has provided guidance on essential workers to providers.

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Govt 'fully intends' that schools reopen on 11 January

Meanwhile, The Department of Education says the Government fully intends to reopen schools on 11 January

It says the extended break will allow all members of the school community to minimise their contacts before children return to school.

It says the department and public health believe that schools remain safe places.

The department also says it will hold a series of meetings with education partners in the coming week to discuss the return to school.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar reiterated that position this afternoon.

Speaking to RTÉ's This Week programme, he said that the firm intention is to reopen schools and childcare fully on 11 January.

He said the Government has had no advice to the contrary, but added that the situation will be raised closer to the time.

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Teaching unions have raised concerns, and asked for the National Public Health Emergency Team to consider the risks of reopening schools.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland and the Teachers Union of Ireland said they want NPHET to assess the current safety measures in school in light of the new variant of the virus, which is believed to be more infectious.

The ASTI is to meet with officials from the Department of Education and other stakeholders tomorrow to seek assurances about the safety of its members when schools reopen.

ASTI President Ann Piggott told RTÉ's This Week that there is increased worry about the rising numbers of cases of Covid-19 and the emergence of different strains of the virus among its members.

Ms Piggott said that the the message to stay at home and stay away from others is impossible to observe in a school setting.

She said the ASTI had written to the Minister for Education on 23 December with concerns about the new variant of the virus identified in the UK, which is believed to be more transmissible.

People Before Profit has called for schools to stay shut during January and for the school year to be pushed forward by a month.

PBP TD Bríd Smith said schools are not safe in this current crisis.

Labour education spokesman Aodhán Ó Ríordáin says schools reopening is preferable, but that the Government should ask NPHET to urgently carry out a public health risk assessment on whether schools can safely reopen on 11 January.