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'No reason schools can't reopen after mid-term' - Holohan eases worries


Alfie Murnane (3) at Burrow Beach in Sutton yesterday

Alfie Murnane (3) at Burrow Beach in Sutton yesterday

Alfie Murnane (3) at Burrow Beach in Sutton yesterday


Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan says there is no public health reason why schools should not reopen next week after the mid-term break.

"In terms of the data we are looking at, on public health grounds, we wouldn't see at this moment in time that schools shouldn't reopen as planned," he said.

Measures to offer reassurance that all is being done to ensure the safest possible return will be discussed today at meetings involving Department of Education officials, public health experts and representatives of principals, teachers and school managers.

Measures to speed up Covid-related contact tracing and testing for schools are a key focus of the discussions.

More than €200m is committed for this term to support Covid prevention and protection measures in schools and the experience is that they are safe environments.

According to figures provided to the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI), health experts believe there are fewer than 10 schools where the disease has been transmitted within that setting.

Where cases are detected they are more likely to have come in from outside.

Dr Heather Burns, deputy chief medical officer, said last night that the positivity rate for tests that follow on from a confirmed case in a school was at 2.7pc at primary level and 2.1pc for secondary schools.

This is much lower than in the community generally.

Up to last Thursday, a total of 11,776 staff and student "close contacts" had been tested across primary and post-primary schools, with 282 positive test results.

It included 4,040 individuals associated with post-primary schools.


Among these were 79 additional detected cases. Adults (18 or over) accounted for 505 of those tested and fewer than 10 were positive.

However, notwithstanding the encouraging figures about the likely spread of the disease within schools, the first half of the term ended with some serious concerns.

There was increasing frustration among principals about delays with tracing and testing causing serious disruption to school life - such as teachers and pupils being asked to stay at home and self-isolate for longer than was necessary .

One the major concerns for schools was poor out-of-hours contact - for instance, principals who learned of a case within the school community on a Friday evening were finding it difficult to progress the matter over the weekend.

Then, on the eve of the mid-term holiday came news that a hand sanitiser available to schools was the subject of a recall because of health and safety concerns.

As well as the recruitment of more tracing staff, Education Minister Norma Foley has promised a new system involving dedicated School Teams.

These will be made up of HSE and Department of Education officials who will assist schools where a positive case of Covid-19 is identified.

Teachers' unions now want to know the teams will be supported by sufficient resources to ensure they are fit for purpose.

Unions have raised other issues ahead of reopening, including an explanation of the difference between a close contact and a casual contact in a school setting.

Meanwhile, following the recall of ViraPro sanitisation products, the Department of Education is reviewing all products/product sizes available to schools.

There are about 150 products in all, provided by 10 suppliers.