Call comes as Nphet gives green light to next wave of reopenings
Teachers last night warned of the danger of Covid-19 silently spreading in schools if decisions are taken too soon to ease restrictions requiring children who are close contacts of a confirmed case to stay at home.
It follows a recommendation by the usually cautious National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to radically water down the need for testing and keeping children out of school for at least 10 days when close contacts of a confirmed case – even when they have no symptoms themselves.
It may come into force from September 27, depending on favourable reports on Covid-19 in schools.
A new set of guidelines to be drawn up by the country’s disease watchdog will see thousands of children no longer missing school, apart from particular circumstances where they have symptoms or are in a vulnerable category.
However, the recommendation was met with major concern by the Irish National Teacher Organisation (INTO), whose members work daily in classrooms of unvaccinated children.
INTO general secretary John Boyle said: “It would remain our view that the reopening of schools should be reviewed closer to the mid-term break and any changes to the public health advice should be based on this evidence and introduced thereafter.
“Nphet has regularly stated that a change in approach to contact tracing is not without risks, including potentially missing a resurgence until people become wholly symptomatic.”
Children who have symptoms of Covid-19 will still need to be tested and self-isolate.
Exceptions will also likely be made for close-contact children in special education or pupils with underlying medical conditions.
Nphet will monitor the pattern of the disease in schools and make a decision on whether changes should be triggered at the end of this month.
It will also have implications for adults and a decision on changes to restrictions for close contacts more generally in the wider population, including workplaces, is likely in October.
Around 1,200 children are currently deemed close contacts in school daily with some 10,000 now missing school as a result.
It can take up to 14 days for Covid-19 to incubate, with an average period of four to seven days for symptoms to emerge.
A reduction in testing of schoolchildren would take major pressure off the HSE, which has seen a surge in demand from primary school pupils in particular since the return to school, although the vast majority are found not be infected.
There were 40 outbreaks in schools last week, compared with 12 the previous week.
Nphet also decided not to recommend the wearing of face masks for primary school children following recommendations of a review carried out by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa).
It comes as Nphet, which met yesterday, gave the green light to the next phase of reopening on Monday, including the phased return to the workplace, the removal of restrictions on outdoor group activities and easing of rules around indoor sports, arts and culture events.
It will mean that organised indoor group activities can happen with up to 100 people, provided all patrons are immune through full vaccination, infection in the previous six months or where children aged under 18 years are accompanied.
The latest moves come against a background of falling incidence of infection, although it is still high.
There were 1,413 new cases yesterday, with a five day average of 1,395. The number of hospitalised Covid-19 patients fell to 290, but there was a slight increase among those in intensive care to 67.
Professor Philip Nolan, who tracks the virus for Nphet, said we are seeing the benefits of vaccination, with almost 90pc of those aged 16 and over fully jabbed.
This is coupled with the adherence by the general public to anti-Covid habits.
Prof Nolan said the incidence would decline further if we stuck to these measures.
It was likely there had been a “modest increase” in primary school children. There was also a decrease in daily hospitalisations, he added.