The automatic contact tracing of close contacts in creches and primary schools will be discontinued from next week.
The arrangements for contact tracing and testing in childcare and primary schools are set to change from next Monday, the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly confirmed this Wednesday.
It follows discussions with the National Public Health Emergency Team and the Chief Medical Officer.
From next Monday:
- Automatic contact tracing of close contacts in childcare facilities and primary education will be discontinued, not including special education facilities.
- The testing of asymptomatic close contacts in childcare facilities and primary education will be discontinued, not including special education facilities.
- Children aged 13yrs or under, identified as close contacts in childcare, educational settings, or other non-household settings and who are asymptomatic will no longer be required to restrict movements unless indicated by the local public health team.
- Children aged 13yrs or under who are identified as household close contacts in household settings will still be required to restrict movements and get tested, regardless of symptomatic status.
- Cases and outbreaks in Special Educational Needs (SEN) settings, respite care, or residential settings will still require a public health risk assessment.
The public health advice remains that any child under the age of 13 who displays symptoms of Covid-19 should rapidly self-isolate and not attend school or to socialise until 48 hours after they are symptom-free.
Responding to the news, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said the Department of Education knows there is a "deficiency in the data" from mass testing in primary schools but is still proceeding to change Covid protection measures.
The INTO has called for the proposed changes to be deferred until reliable data on outbreaks in schools is available.
"The INTO proposes that any changes should be made from Monday, November 1st when schools reopen after mid-term break," the statement reads.
"This would allow time for better data to be obtained and sufficient time for considered analysis and to allow for the proposed changes to be implemented in an orderly fashion."
The union says it believes that delaying any changes until after the Mid Term break will better serve primary schools, special schools and local communities for the remainder of the school term.
Minister Donnelly said: “The latest data indicates that schools continue to be a low-risk environment for transmission of Covid-19. As such, I am happy to be in a position today to announce these significant updates to contact tracing in our school environments.”
“If you have any concerns or notice symptoms in members of your family, the public health advice remains to self-isolate and arrange a test as soon as possible. You should not attend school, or work or socialise.”
The news come as there were 90 outbreaks of Covid-19 recorded in schools last week, more than double the number recorded the week prior.
The latest report from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre shows over 400 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were linked to outbreaks in schools in the week to Sunday. This compares to 40 outbreaks reported the previous week, with 191 linked cases.
An outbreak is defined as two or more linked cases of Covid-19. The vast majority of outbreaks occurred in primary schools at 78, while 11 outbreaks occurred in secondary schools. One outbreak occurred in a special education school.
Nine outbreaks were reported in childcare facilities with 33 confirmed linked cases.
An outbreak in a university in the east of the country was also recorded, with seven associated cases of Covid-19 confirmed.