There is to be no change to advice on mask-wearing for primary school children, with schools being asked to focus on physical distancing and increased ventilation.
Mask-wearing in Ireland is advised for anyone aged over 13, and having considered the issue Nphet is now advising this guidance remains in place.
Chair of the Nphet expert group, Dr Máirín Ryan, said: “In young children, the benefit of mask use is likely small and may be affected by their reduced ability to comply with facemask-wearing.”
Paediatricians, she said, have advised that the addition of masks to an already abnormal school life could increase anxiety in young children.
The World Health Organization has said children should wear masks from age 12, but this was deemed unnecessary by the latest Nphet review.
Dr Ryan, who is also the deputy CEO of the Health Information and Quality Authority, Hiqa, said that, in Irish schools, most children move to secondary school at 13 so this creates a natural break.
“Most first-years will be 13, some will be 12. The guidance is that if you have a 12-year-old who is in first year, they are considered to be developmentally equivalent to their 13-year-old peers, so they comply as well with the mask-wearing,” she said.
However, Dr Ryan called on schools to maintain focus on physical distancing on school grounds and increased ventilation.
This, she said, is in light of what is known about increased transmissibility of the British variant B220.127.116.11.
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn reported no increase in the number of cases linked to the South African B.1.351 at 15 cases, the Brazilian P1 variant at three cases, and the UK/Nigerian variant B.1.525 at three. The B.1.1.7 UK variant remains the most dominant at over 90%.
Dr Glynn also said four stillbirths have been provisionally linked to covid placentitis, an extremely rare Covid-19 infection of the placenta.
Nphet confirmed that there is now a strong downward trend in all Covid-19 markers, across case numbers, hospitalisations, and deaths according to Professor Philip Nolan.
The chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group said: “This represents an extraordinary effort over a very challenging nine-week period which has brought us from 6,500 cases to under 600.”
The R-number is between 0.6 and 0.9, slightly lower than last week, he said.
The incidence of the virus is decreasing across all age groups, even those aged over-85. They now have a similar level of disease to the general population.
And he noted: “The number of deaths per week in nursing homes has decreased enormously.” This he linked to vaccination.
However, he said experience from previous surges indicates infection rates among under-12s tend to fluctuate over time. Nphet will monitor this closely.
And, in a sign the virus is still spreading in Ireland, Dr Breda Smyth described a large outbreak, saying: “To yesterday, we had 442 cases associated with this outbreak.”
Dr Smyth, a public health doctor working with HSE West said 224 households were involved. Some cases involved transmissions in hospitality, retail, and vulnerable settings where young people from these houses were working.
She said transmission could have happened due to students moving to Galway from other parts of the country, increased mingling between houses, and, in some cases, house parties.
There was just one hospitalisation, and no deaths linked to the outbreaks.
“In this situation, there was available testing in the centre of the campus,” she said.