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A carefully-monitored phased return to school would help children adjust to post-Covid world

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Preparation: Taoiseach Micheál Martin (left) with principal Jim O’Sullivan (right) and deputy principal Nicholas O’Keefe (centre) at Nagle Secondary Community College, Mahon, Co Cork. Photo: Julien Behal/PA

Preparation: Taoiseach Micheál Martin (left) with principal Jim O’Sullivan (right) and deputy principal Nicholas O’Keefe (centre) at Nagle Secondary Community College, Mahon, Co Cork. Photo: Julien Behal/PA

Preparation: Taoiseach Micheál Martin (left) with principal Jim O’Sullivan (right) and deputy principal Nicholas O’Keefe (centre) at Nagle Secondary Community College, Mahon, Co Cork. Photo: Julien Behal/PA

A pandemic is a challenging time to reopen schools. But if it needs to be done, the reopening should be in a phased and graded way. Many children will find the sudden full-time reopening of schools with all the new precautionary measures overwhelming.

A graded or phased return to school can assist in the process of psychological and physical adjustment as well as their reconditioning.

With winter approaching, there may be limited outdoor activities with fewer opportunities to get fresh outside air and more time spent indoors. Ensuring 100pc physical distancing may not be realistically possible, especially in primary schools.

Many countries are implementing a "mixed learning system" during the first semester of the academic year where e-learning is combined with classroom learning in one framework.

According to the mixed learning system, students are required to attend the classes one to three times a week, while maintaining an attendance rate of about 30pc-40pc per day. The distant or remote learning system will be applied on days when students do not come to the school building. Students are provided with their rotating time schedule of the days required for in-school teaching and distant learning.

This method will ensure adequate physical distancing and spacing as well as determine when a full-time return is safe for the children in the future. Alternatively, if the situation goes in the reverse direction and the number of virus cases continues to increase, it will be easier to convert to full-time remote or e-teaching.

In South Korea, schools have temperature checks at school entrances and they are required to wear masks and maintain social distance with frequent hand washing. The chair of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group has warned that unless we move collectively and firmly to prevent further transmission of Covid-19 "we will see case numbers rise to a level that is unsustainable".

In my opinion, the reopening model should be based on local numbers which have doubled over the last ten days. A full-time return to school can easily backfire.

Dr Aaisha Khan

Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin

 

Only substantial reform will change this system

Charlie Weston's article ('Appeal court slashes whiplash payout, warning of the effect of big awards', Irish Independent, August 18)  features a case decided in the Court of Appeal regarding a personal injuries claim in which the Appeal Court Judge, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan, decided to reduce an award of the High Court. The judge gave detailed reasons for his decision and your reporter informed readers both of the judge's decision and the judge's important remarks on the context in which insurance claims affect clients of insurance companies and each member of the general public as taxpayers.

Judge Noonan is the first member of the judiciary to make a comment which is both well informed and practical on this subject.

My own experience as managing director of Supermac's and Só Hotels group is precisely as described by Judge Noonan.

What was an unspeakable truth to the point of travesty, that the value of a case depends on the identity of a trial judge, had become the stuff of hide- and-seek in the corridors of the courts, where claimants and, more particularly, claimants' counsel and solicitors, dodged, by adjournment or other tactics, the court list of the sensible judges and dived into the list of judges known to be generous in the determining of awards. I absolutely applaud Judge Noonan for highlighting this practice.

The practice where counsel and the legal profession also initiate inflated awards by 'encouraging' clients to exaggerate claims and present in a higher court in order to inflate their own fees is another feature of this approach.

This was expertly highlighted in a series of investigative articles in December of last year by the Irish Independent's Public Affairs Correspondent, Amy Molloy.

Only substantial reform of the determination of awards will change this outrageous casting of honourable courts as horse fairs.

Pat McDonagh

Supermac's, Galway

 

The time for regrets is… probably now, actually

With political apologies abounding, we now indeed have a sorry state of affairs.

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont, Dublin 9

 

Is it time to give Fine Gael or the Greens a spin?

I never imagined a rotating Cabinet would only be rotating Ministers for Agriculture. Perhaps it's time to rename it the Department of Rotary Agriculture.

The burning question is: Will there be a third Fianna Fáil Agricultural Minister to walk the plank, or will Micheál Martin hand the department to Fine Gael or the Green Party in the hope it won't be third time unlucky for Fianna Fáil?

Declan Foley

Berwick, Australia

 

An earnest attempt to understand dilemma

To lose one Minister for Agriculture may be regarded as a misfortune: to lose two looks like carelessness.

John McGeorge

Doonbeg, Co. Clare

 

The missed opportunities that led us to this point

Now, we are told, we are faced with the divisive prospect of a second lockdown - one that is, inevitably, going to be harder to enforce than the first.

Although both Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin's governments have unquestionably tried their best over the last six months - and such a step may have been inevitable under any circumstances - the question of what progress we have made is perhaps an important one.

The concept of a lockdown is part of a delaying phase in epidemic control - a period of time to allow individuals, society and government to adjust to new circumstances, to prepare.

In this regard, Ireland could be said, in some ways, to have used this time wisely - equipping us with time to ensure face-mask availability, among other ­necessities which were initially in short supply.

The gains in knowledge, and associated behaviour change, during that period have also been critically important.

But we also have to be honest with ourselves about the missed opportunities which have forced us into the difficult position we currently find ourselves in.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) still will not cover testing for those who believe they have been exposed but are still asymptomatic - a bizarre policy, no doubt driven by cost concerns.

The use of technology via the ­contact-tracing app has been, to many, hugely disappointing, with data privacy and confidentiality issues overriding what could have been a very helpful epidemic-control tool.

In this regard, the lack of public availability of key information on the local spread of outbreaks and epidemics has unquestionably hampered societal efforts at infection control.

Though complicated by the Northern Irish Border, the Government also appears to have deliberately chosen not to introduce port-of-entry testing along the lines of the Icelandic model on the grounds of tourism, commerce, convenience and logistics.

We are now paying the price for this missed opportunity to build borders that are much more effectively sealed against the importation of disease.

A lack of more effective control of rebel holidaymakers has been a related failure.

No-one could have seen into the future and what it held, but perhaps if we had appreciated that this is a global and not a national problem - that the Irish epidemic is not over until the international ­pandemic is over - we would, by now, be closer to the New Zealand model.

That is a model in which schools, pubs, hospitals and sporting events can function in relative normality.

As an epidemiologist and health security professional, I too was ­optimistic that the epidemic would be over during June and early July.

However, because the months of March to June were not used to good effect in the above and other regards, we may now have to go through the whole unpleasant process again, in order to give the government - and ourselves - a second chance to finally get these policies right.

Dr Sebastian Kevany

Military Road, Killiney, Co Dublin

Irish Independent