Schools and childcare facilities are to remain open under the new restrictions imposed by the Government in a bid to tackle a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Announcing the measures, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that "we will not allow our children's futures to be another victim of this disease".

He said the fact that schools were re-opened and kept open was due to the extraordinary work of the entire school communities.

"They too are on the frontline and deserve the gratitude of the nation," he said. "We will continue to work with school leaders to keep them open." 

Minister for Education Norma Foley said the decision "recognises the overwhelming evidence from our public health experts, that schools are a safe environment for our school communities, children and staff members".

She said that the National Public Health Emergency Team has reviewed the epidemiological data and recommended that schools remain open during Level 5 restrictions, even in the current trajectory of the disease.

Minister Foley also said the latest data shows that 10,513 students and teachers have been involved in mass testing which has resulted in the detection of 246 additional cases. 

She also said that there was no significant change in the proportion of total weekly Covid-19 cases attributable to children between the ages of 4 and 18 years old before and after the reopening of schools (14.3% and 14.1% respectively).

Speaking on RTÉ's Claire Byrne Live, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he was confident that schools, childcare and colleges could remain open during Level 5.

He said he received a detailed report from the Department of Education recently which said "the news is very good from schools" largely thanks to the efforts of teachers, principals and students.

Mr Donnelly said the positivity rate in schools is 1.7%, while in the community it is "consistently above 7%" and the experts are saying that students are "safer in school than they would be in the community".

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One of the country's secondary teachers' unions has called for "urgent engagement" with the Department of Education on a range of issues.

The Teachers' Union of Ireland said they have particular concerns about the definition of close contacts and casual contacts in schools, saying there is a lack of consistency in this regard.

The union also called for the introduction of rapid testing in schools.

The call for engagement has been echoed by the leader of the Labour Party.

Labour leader Alan Kelly welcomed the decision to keep schools open, saying it must be a priority. 

However he said there has to be much stronger engagement with stakeholders so that the concerns or teachers and school staff are heard.