By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland will set out a broad and gradual plan to reopen its economy on Tuesday to ensure there is no fourth lockdown, a minister said, as the more infectious UK COVID-19 variant slows suppression of its deadliest wave to date.
Ireland has been back in lockdown since late December after a brief reopening led to an enormous spike in infections. Some students will return to school next week but no consideration will be given to re-opening the hospitality sector before mid-summer, Prime Minister Micheál Martin said last week.
The highest level of constraints that keep people to within 5 km (3 miles) of their homes will be extended into April when Martin offers some idea of when restrictions will end following a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
Unlike neighbouring England's four-stage plan on Monday to lift most restrictions by June 21 - bolstered by its faster vaccine rollout - Irish ministers have said their plan will not provide exact dates for the step-by-step reopening.
"For me the fundamental issue is there can be no going back, there can be no fourth lockdown, there can be no fourth wave (of disease) coming to Ireland," Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath told national broadcaster RTE.
"That's why we will do it gradually and cautiously."
McGrath said Ireland will extend a commercial rates waiver for businesses most seriously impacted by the shutdown to mid-year alongside the continuation of other income, unemployment and grant support.
The reopening plan was criticised by some analysts for being too vague.
"In the context of the clear, yet caveated, data-based reopening plan set out by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday, Ireland's reopening plan set to be announced later today looks like it will disappoint on many fronts," Goodbody Stockbrokers Chief Economist Dermot O'Leary wrote in a note.
"Based upon the latest information on vaccines, a clear reopening schedule should be possible."
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Catherine Evans and Philippa Fletcher)