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12,000 children already taken from school over close contact fears - as testing nears capacity

Despite the high numbers, there is still no evidence of classroom outbreaks


Head of testing and tracing at the HSE Niamh O'Beirne. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Head of testing and tracing at the HSE Niamh O'Beirne. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Head of testing and tracing at the HSE Niamh O'Beirne. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Around 12,000 children are already at home from school restricting their movements after being identified as close contacts of a confirmed case of Covid-19 .

The extent of the disruption already caused by Covid-19 among school pupils emerged yesterday, although there is still no evidence of classroom outbreaks.

However there are fears the number of school children being identified as close contacts is going to grow still further.

Children who have tested positive for Covid-19 so early in the new term are likely to have picked it up in the community rather than at school and it will take longer to assess if a pupil got infected with the virus in the classroom.

Niamh O‘Beirne, he ad of testing and tracing in the HSE, said positive cases have been found so far in some 700 primary schools and 500 secondary schools, leading to around 12,000 children being identified as close contacts and having to restrict their movements at home after assessment by public health teams.

She said: “On average, there are 15 close contacts of a confirmed case in primary school settings while there are three in secondary school.”

Children who are close contacts have to restrict their movements for 10 days. If their day 10 test is negative they can return to school.

If a parent does not agree to their child being tested, the child must be kept home from school for 14 days.

Some school principals criticised delays in the HSE forwarding them Excel sheets detailing the names of children who are close contacts.

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In one case, a principal had a child test positive in school on Thursday and they were still waiting last weekend for the sheets detailing the names and addresses of other pupils who are close contacts.

The individual children could not be referred for testing until this was completed and agreed.

Ms O’Beirne said all of these children would have been already individually identified by public health teams who risk-assessed the school.

Their parents would have been advised they were close contacts and needed to stay at home and to restrict their movements.

A new HSE administrative team has been set up to handle the Excel sheets and they are dealing with a huge volume of children. There is a need to go back and forth with the list of children’s names and other details to ensure accuracy.

“The children will be tested but it could mean it will be on day three or four. But it will not add to the time they restrict their movements,” she said, acknowledging the concern parents may have regarding the wait to be informed around testing.

This administrative team is now being boosted, with a staff of 80.

They will be on duty at weekends from 8am to 11pm, she added. The biggest volume of children referred for testing is in the under-14s and their positivity rate is at 9pc.

The HSE saw referrals for testing hit over 20,000 yesterday, bringing it near capacity.

Although students in some third-level colleges returned yesterday, she said the expectation is that the level of infection will not be high because so many of this age group are fully vaccinated.

It comes as another 1,144 new cases of the virus were reported yesterday. There were 384 Covid-19 patients in hospital, an increase of 22 on the previous day. The number in intensive care was stable at 59.

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