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Union is tracking school Covid cases to gauge impact of Delta


The TUI’s Michael Gillespie says we will know more about the delta variant in a fortnight

The TUI’s Michael Gillespie says we will know more about the delta variant in a fortnight

The TUI’s Michael Gillespie says we will know more about the delta variant in a fortnight

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has said it will be watching the next two weeks “closely” as Covid-19 continues to cause disruption in schools, with more and more pregnant teachers “extremely nervous” to go into the classroom.

Around 12,000 children were reported to be out of school last week and restricting their movements, having been identified as a close contact of a confirmed Covid case.

TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie believes more information will emerge in the next fortnight that will “give us a better picture of the impact of the Delta variant”.

“I think the next two weeks will tell us about the figures. Hopefully, then we will know how many people who are close contacts actually end up with Covid-19,” he said.

“We need to know more about the spread of the Delta variant and we will need to remain vigilant to make sure this virus does not take hold.”

Mr Gillespie also said there are still small groups of teachers who are staying at home, including those who are pregnant, “and are extremely nervous”.

“They are not going back. They are signing out sick,” he said. 

“We still have teachers who are looking after ill parents or people who are very high risk at home, such as vulnerable children. Those groups are very nervous about going back into the classroom.”

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It comes following a week of confusion as children tested positive for Covid-19 in more than 1,000 prima​ry schools and early education settings and more than 600 secondary schools.

A surge in demand for testing piled pressure on HSE public health teams, with a number of principals unable to access a special helpline number.

Sources have confirmed the majority of schools affected by issues with the helpline number were in the east coast and north-west areas of the country, including Co Donegal.

“Many of them couldn’t get through to the helpline, then when some of them did get through they were waiting for someone to ring them back. There were a lot of complaints going in,” a source said. 

“It was in places like Donegal and the whole of the east coast, that’s where we were seeing the problems with getting someone from public health to ring them back.”

Mr Gillespie said the HSE “should have expected and planned” for the possibility of large numbers of concerned people returning to school after the holidays.

“The delays in the replying to principals should have been planned for and a layer of worry that the system could have done without,” he said.

With vaccination rates low in the north Inishowen and Carn-donagh areas of Donegal, the spotlight has been on the county’s schools and the rising number of cases.

With issues over the HSE helpline, principals have been “making the decision to send students home until they hear from the HSE, then being told they can’t do that”, a source said.

Ursula O’Connor, a teacher in Mulroy College in Milford, hopes another school year will “not be disrupted” by the increase in infections.

“You are always concerned because of the impact on health and the impact on their education,” she said. 

“When we went back to school in September, we were disappointed all these measures were still in place, but also we felt safe because of that.

“There are a lot of levels of Covid-19 in the community, and that is having an impact in the schools.

“But our main concern is that we wouldn’t want the school year to be disrupted again, so if we could just get through the year we can continue to teach, and not remotely.”

On the HSE response, Ms O’Connor said schools “want things to be done quickly as possible”.

“You don’t like hearing principals with a big workload trying to contact trace, you would hope the Government would put in whatever is necessary to help.”

Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland

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