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2,100 Covid tests on pupils and teachers to date but delays could lead to school closures


Stock photo: Getty Images

Stock photo: Getty Images

Stock photo: Getty Images

Schools are facing "severe disruption" and possible closures due to delays in Covid testing, a teachers' union has warned.

Principals are also struggling to find substitute teachers at short notice and the Government is being urged to prioritise rapid testing for schools.

It comes as the HSE said up to 2,100 schoolchildren and teachers have so far been tested for Covid-19 and 35 were found to be positive.

These cases were from 96 out of the 4,000 schools that have reopened across the country.

The Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) is calling for tests to be arranged for students and staff on the day they first experience possible coronavirus symptoms.

It is also demanding that results be provided within 24 hours to minimise absence rates.

"We are hearing that, in too many cases, teachers and other school staff are waiting days for both," said Michael Gillespie, general secretary of the TUI.

"This is not sustainable if schools are to remain open. Given traditional trends in terms of colds and flu over the winter months and the additional burden that will be put on any testing regime, it is certain that the problems we are seeing now will greatly worsen unless a robust testing system is put in place.

"To make matters worse, school principals are finding it extremely difficult to recruit substitute teachers at short notice."

Dr Colm Henry, clinical director of the HSE, said there was inter-school transmission of the virus in two to five of the 35 positive cases.

This was "possible or probable" in two schools and in the other three it was "possible but not likely".

He said there was no evidence that schools are contributing to the community transmission of the virus.

The reality is that it is increasing community transmission which could affect the spread of the virus in schools, he added.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the agency is seeing more referrals for testing of young children.

The HSE was not able to provide a breakdown in positive cases between children and teachers.

Separate figures compiled in a weekly report on coronavirus clusters by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) show there have been 13 confirmed outbreaks in schools since they returned after the summer.

However, these figures only include outbreaks reported up to September 12.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said it could not yet provide up-to-date figures or a quick turnaround on HPSC queries "due to the significant public health surveillance work they are undertaking, in addition to a significant volume of media queries received on a daily basis".

Children are accounting for a small proportion of the 2,679 positive cases recorded between September 2 and September 15.

Those aged four or under accounted for 4pc of overall cases, while five- to 14-year-olds accounted for 9pc of cases.

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