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*Photograph: John Mangan

Schools are to reopen at the end of August while play pods are to separate children in childcare facilities from next month.

Following a meeting of Cabinet on Friday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (FG) confirmed that schools will reopen at the beginning of the academic year. He stated that this wasn’t “a no-risk scenario but a low risk scenario”. Closures of schools was first announced on March 12th.

“That was always the plan from the beginning,” he told reporters following the media in response to queries that schools were opening in August as opposed to September. Varadkar stressed that the roadmap for reopening Ireland always included a beginning of the academic year reopening, “that is going to happen”.

Varadkar stated the return to school would be “as close to normal as possible” but also admitted that all students may be unable to attend everyday.

Criticism has been voiced by teachers over the lack of consultation they have had from the Department of Education throughout the pandemic.

Public health experts within the Health Service Executive conducted a report which found that schools were not a high-risk setting for the transmission of COVID-19. The report published in a European journal on infectious disease surveillance concluded that the reopening of schools should be considered as an early rather than a late measure in the lifting of restrictions.

As of today, secondary school teachers and pupils not involved in the State Examinations are on summer holidays.

Separately, ‘play pods’ will be used to separate children attending crèches, montessori and afterschool from June 29th in an attempt to minimise the risk of infection.

Early years and childcare providers were issued with guidance which outlined that a pod will consist of a group of children and at least two adults who will stay together for the duration of the day. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs have yet to decide how many children will be allowed into each pod.

Social distancing is not recommended for children under the age of six but those over six will be expected to keep their distance and avoid physical contact. No contact will be allowed between different pods. No reduction in capacity has been recommended but may have to be introduced to factor in the play pods.

Childcare staff will not be required to wear PPE but when caring for children adults have been told to follow NPHET advice regarding face coverings. Gloves and aprons are already worn by staff when cleaning and changing nappies.

Strong hygiene measures are to be followed for childminder’s operating out of a home setting. Outdoor activity has been recommended.

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