Nphet seeks new face mask rules for primary school pupils 

Nphet seeks new face mask rules for primary school pupils 

Nphet has warned that "indoor community gatherings" for children under 12 should now "be avoided" for at least the next two weeks. 

The National Public Health Emergency Team wants face masks to be worn by all pupils in primary schools, from third class upwards, while Christmas plays, indoor playdates and children's birthday parties should be avoided.

In an unexpected move, Nphet has warned that "indoor community gatherings" for children under 12 should now "be avoided" for at least the next two weeks in a bid to reduce Covid infections.

Playdates may take place outdoors, however, the public health experts have said, but this should be kept to small numbers of children.

Nphet has recommended that face masks be worn by all pupils in third class and above in primary school classrooms, while all those over the age of nine should wear face coverings on public transport and in shops.

Currently, children over the age of 13 are required to wear face coverings in schools.

This new guidance on face masks will be reviewed in February of next year.

The latest advice was last night sent to health minister Stephen Donnelly, and will now be discussed by the Cabinet.

It comes as the European Medicines Agency (EMA) earlier today approved the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for children over the age of five.

The Government now expects the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) to move "very soon" on vaccines for children in this age group.

More than 140,000 doses for children between the age of five and 11 will arrive in the country before Christmas.

It is expected that most of these children will receive their jabs at Covid vaccine centres across the country and will be called for an appointment by class group.

While the first batch of vaccines is expected to arrive around December 20, a Government source said it could be after Christmas before the first children receive their jabs.

HSE CEO Paul Reid speaking to media in Dr Steevens Hospital today. Picture: Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland
HSE CEO Paul Reid speaking to media in Dr Steevens Hospital today. Picture: Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland

HSE chief Paul Reid welcomed the EMA decision to approve vaccinations for 5-11-year-olds, and said that a plan will be mobilised to prepare for this younger age group ahead of receiving the vaccine doses.

Damien McCallion, the HSE’s lead on the vaccination programme, said around 480,000 children are in the five-to-11 age group for vaccinations, and that the exact strategy will be dependent on the Covid situation at the time.

The latest data from the HPSC shows that the infection rate in five to 12-year-olds has increased again to 979.4 per 100,000 population, more than treble the 312.7 rate seen in the week ending October 16.

Infections in this age group accounted for 17.6% of all infections in the week to November 20.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan. Picture: Gareth Chaney /Collins Photos
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan. Picture: Gareth Chaney /Collins Photos

Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan warned that the incidence of Covid-19 remains “concerningly high”, as a further 4,764 new cases were confirmed earlier today, with 62,401 cases reported in the last 14 days.

He urged people to be mindful of contacts in the days after socialising, and to especially consider anyone they meet who may be immunocompromised or vulnerable to Covid-19.

A HSE briefing yesterday heard that 5,800 healthcare staff are now out of work due to Covid-related absence.

Mr Reid said this was having a significant impact, while chief operations officer Anne O’Connor described it as a big concern for the health system.

However, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the Government will not rush into imposing new restrictions.

Asked about the possibility of future restrictions, Mr Varadkar said: "I wouldn't like us to rush into any decisions either, because it would be a big mistake, I think, for us to impose a whole set of new restrictions in the next couple of days, only to find out that we've turned the corner anyway."

But Mr Varadkar told RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne radio show that more restrictions may be needed in the coming weeks.

"I think we may need more restrictions heading into the Christmas period, but I don't think we need to be fatalistic about a return to any form of lockdown or even a 'lockdown light', and I think we should try to avoid that," he said.

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From florist to fraudster, leaving a trail of destruction from North Cork, to Waterford, to Clare, to Wexford and through the midlands ... learn how mistress of re-invention, Catherine O'Brien, scammed her way around rural Ireland.

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