Childcare services should remain open, or reopen next week, if they have been closed for the Christmas period, the Minister for Children has said.

Roderick O'Gorman stated: "I realise that the increasing Covid-19 cases are causing concern to early learning and childcare providers, staff and the families who use their services.

"A number of provider representative bodies have asked for guidance from my Department on whether early learning and childcare services should operate from next week.

"The current position is that early learning and childcare services should remain open, or reopen next week, if they have been closed for the Christmas period."

Mr O'Gorman said he recognised that many services may face staffing challenges, due to staff being Covid-19 positive or having to isolate.

"I would encourage these services to avoid full service closure if possible, unless directed by the HSE to close on public health grounds, or where there are no staff available to provide a service," he urged.

"I realise that many services may be dealing with temporary staff shortages. If they are unable to get relief staff, they could consider closing a pod or pods temporarily, with full service closure to be used if no other options are available."

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Meanwhile the Child and Family Agency Tusla said it is continuing to "maintain a focus on providing essential services during the current wave of Covid-19".

It said the agency is continuing to monitor the availability of staff who either contract Covid themselves, or are restricted due to close contacts.

Tusla said the number of people absent due to Covid-19 varied between 17 and 67 per month from February to September.

"However, there was a sharp rise to 97 in October, 198 in November and 113 to date this month (as of 19 December). We will continue to monitor the situation and prioritise essential services as necessary."

Tusla CEO Bernard Gloster said: "We are concerned at this impact on our available staffing, but we are doing relatively well in maintaining services.

"We are however concerned at the trends and are monitoring the situation and planning to prioritise some services in the weeks ahead until the current wave of the virus has passed."