'No talk' of closing schools but Covid-19 'through the roof' among children

'No talk' of closing schools but Covid-19 'through the roof' among children

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) said that 19,637 cases had been identified among children in the last four weeks, with the union calling for the reinstatement of testing and tracing in schools. File picture

There has been "no talk of closing schools" at Government level, despite Taoiseach Micheál Martin telling the Dáil that cases of Covid-19 among children have gone "through the roof" in November.

The rate of Covid-19 in children aged 5-12 has risen 240% in November alone, with nearly 20,000 cases seen in the last four weeks.

Micheál Martin told the Dáil that the target now in schools is to get to the Christmas break, recalibrate, and review how “we deal with the next semester".

He said the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) had showed him and the other leaders graphs showing the virus “going through the roof” in the 5 to 11 age group. 

However, a Government spokesperson said that there has been no discussion on closing schools, despite many in the education sector interpreting the Taoiseach's comments as such.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) said that 19,637 cases had been identified among children in the last four weeks, with the union calling for the reinstatement of testing and tracing in schools.

“It served us well and, with some modifications, renewed contract tracing could be particularly helpful at this juncture,” a statement said. With families ordering 8,500 antigen tests on the first day of the new programme in schools this week, it is clear the primary school system will need “very close scrutiny” and strong support from public health in the period ahead.

Earlier, Cabinet agreed a number of measures aimed at cutting the number of cases among children, including:

  • Advice that parents should "aim to reduce socialisation indoors in respect of children aged 12 and younger over the next two weeks"
  • That children over the age of nine or in third class should wear masks in school, on public transport or in retail settings
  • That all arrivals into the country, including those who are vaccinated, have a PCR or lab-administered antigen test from Friday for at least two weeks

The guidance notes that in some circumstances, a school may not require a medical cert to provide an exemption to the wearing of face coverings.
"Schools will be best placed to identify those children whose complex needs are such that the wearing of face-covering may not be possible for them, and to discuss this with parents as required."

“In other circumstances where a medical certificate is not provided that person, [staff or pupil], will be refused entry to the school.”

In the guidance to schools, parents are reminded that wearing a face-covering or mask does not negate the need to stay at home if symptomatic.

Responsibility on parents

The chief executive of Parentline has told of the deluge of calls received by the service in recent days from parents concerned about the impact of new restrictions on their children “developmentally and emotionally”.

Aileen Hickie told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that parents understood the importance of keeping schools open and that Covid was spreading rapidly and of the need to stem outbreaks, but they were concerned about developmental outcomes especially for children with hearing difficulties or with special needs.

While the new measures for children were guidelines and school principals did have discretion for cases of complex concern, Ms Hickie said that “once again” the responsibility was on parents to ensure their child wore a mask. 

She pointed out the difficulties parents already had getting children to wear gloves and scarves so getting them to wear masks could be even more problematic.

When asked about the letter from the CMO to parents which called on parents to halt social activities, Ms Hickie said that parents were now being required to play the role of “social police” for their children.

Parents knew they had to “go with their own gut” and that they knew what was right and what was wrong, they would “lead from the front.” However, she added that families were not going to “drop everything”, but they would prioritise.

Meanwhile, a decision to proceed with planned cuts to the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme from today [WEDS] has been blasted by one hospitality industry group.

The Department of Finance has confirmed that the ending of enhanced rates will kick in, despite the altered public health advice in recent days.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland described the cuts to the EWSS supports as "a monumental blow to the hospitality sector" at a critical time for businesses in the lead up to Christmas.

In a statement, the RAI said the combination of messaging from Government regarding reducing social contacts and now a cut to the EWSS will cause untold economic damage to an already financially distressed sector.

It has also been confirmed that all people arriving in Ireland will need a negative Covid-19 test from Friday, under proposals agreed by the Cabinet.

Travellers, including those from the UK and the EU, can have either a professional antigen test taken a maximum of 48 hours prior to arrival or PCR test taken up to 72 hours beforehand. A spokesperson for the Government said the regulations were being drawn up "urgently", with questions outstanding about cost, availability and where a test has to be taken.

Those who arrive without a test will face mandatory isolation at home pending a negative PCR test and could be fined up to €2,000. The possibility of introducing penalties where carriers fail to carry out checks on their passengers is also being examined.

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