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10,000 students isolating at home can head back to classrooms without test

Chief Medical Officer said there was an increase in children referred for testing in recent weeks
Dr Tony Holohan

Dr Tony Holohan

Eilish O'Regan

Around 10,000 primary school children currently at home due to being a close contact of a pupil with Covid-19 can return to the classroom on Monday without an all-clear test.

It comes as principals and teachers were told yesterday that HSE public health teams would no longer routinely visit a school when a child tests positive.

Teachers need to keep a close observation of children for possible Covid-19 symptoms “at all times”.

It follows the rule change for children aged 12 and younger, which no longer means automatic testing and tracing or requiring close contacts to stay at home for up to 10 days when a pupil tests positive.

However, the HSE said any child who was at home as a close contact but had symptoms should not return on Monday.

There will be a similar return of children who are out as close contacts from childcare, sport or social groups.

If a child tests positive in a special education school, HSE public health teams will continue to visit.

Children who are deemed close contacts in a special education setting will have to restrict their movements, but it will be for five days instead of 10 and involves just one test.

Public health officials said the risk of school transmission was low and not enough to warrant keeping a child at home, disrupting their education and social development.

However, the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) is warning that failing to detect cases in schools will lead to a rise in spread and potential school closures.

Meanwhile, AsIAm, Ireland’s national autism charity, condemned the Department of Education’s decision to exclude students in special classes and schools from the full easing of Covid-19 close contact guidelines.

Chief executive Adam Harris said students with the greatest level of need in the education system – those whose educational and support needs have often increased greatly during the pandemic – would face discrimination in having to remain at home in these circumstances.

This was even though many of these children are in small groups, in larger classrooms and have no underlying health conditions.

However, the HSE told principals and unions yesterday that the length of time special school pupils must stay at home had been halved to 10 days and they needed only one Covid-19 test instead of two.

The number of school outbreaks more than doubled to 90 last week, with primary schools the worst affected.

There were 1,355 new cases of the virus confirmed yesterday.

There are 286 patients with the virus in hospital, of whom 59 are in intensive care.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said there was a significant increase in children referred for testing in recent weeks, driven by pupils deemed close contacts.

“Despite significantly in- creased testing in this age group, there has only been a relatively modest increase in the detection of cases,” he said.

“We have also seen the associated positivity rate decrease from 16pc to 5pc, which is very reassuring.

“Both nationally and internationally, the evidence tells us that schools are a low-risk setting for the transmission of Covid-19 among school-going children.

“As such, now is the right time to evolve our contact tracing approach while maintaining the infection prevention and control in place in educational settings.

“I would urge parents to keep children who are unwell and who experience the common symptoms of Covid-19 home from school and to contact your GP if you have any concerns.”

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