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surge fears Holohan warned Government that reopening schools would bring 'significant additional risk'

In a letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, dated January 5, Dr Holohan said the core priority must be protecting the overall health and wellbeing of children.

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Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan advised the Government that fully reopening schools would bring a "significant additional risk” as the country battles with a surge in Covid-19 transmission.

In a letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, dated January 5, Dr Holohan noted that data received by the National Public Health Emergency Team shows schools are a “safe environment”.

However, given the current epidemiological situation, “significant levels of mobility and linked activity” generated by the reopening of schools would pose too risky, he said.

Dr Holohan said the core priority must be protecting the overall health and wellbeing of children.

“Given the staffing challenges already evident across the health and social care sector, it will also be important that measures are taken to limit the impact of a closure of schools on health care workers and other essential workers,” he said.

“Specific measures should also be taken to ensure that more vulnerable children can best be supported over the coming weeks”.

Schools will remain closed until the end of January at least, except for Leaving Cert students, who will attend three days a week.

This decision has been criticised by teaching unions, who have accused the Government of jeopardising the health and safety of teachers and pupils.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) described the move as “gravely concerning”.

"This premature decision of Government is deeply damaging to the trust and confidence that has allowed us to keep schools open since September, despite the various problems,” said TUI president Martin Marjoram.

"Our members do not have trust and confidence that opening schools to Leaving Certificate students as is proposed can be safely achieved under the current circumstances."

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that the government did not get specific advice from Nphet in relation to opening schools three days a week for Leaving Cert students.

“There isn’t specific advice on sixth years but there is general advice," he said on RTÉ News at One this afternoon.

“[The letter] doesn’t say that schools are unsafe, it says that they are relatively safe environment.

"It doesn't call for the closure of schools, that was a decision made by government, but it does say that if there is a full closure of schools that we should have regard to the negative effects of that and make special provisions.”

He said that the government does want to see the Leaving Cert go ahead.

“If those sixth years don’t have FaceTime with their teachers, don't get into labs, don't get into practical rooms, that then becomes a real difficulty.”

He said that the three-day Leaving Cert week came “out of the blue” for teachers and unions.

Mr Varadkar said that consultation with stakeholders prior to making a decision takes a “prolonged period” and may have delayed the decision by a week or two.

“Those sixth years have already lost so much teaching time already because they lost three of fifth year.”

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the Labour party’s education spokesperson, called on the Government to abandon plans to allow sixth year students to return to school next week.

Meanwhile, Leaving Cert students have also voiced their concerns about proceeding with the traditional exams in the summer.

A group of students from Claregalway College have written to Education Minister Norma Foley calling on her to rethink the Department’s decision.

The letter highlights how many students live with family members who have underlying conditions.

“Any suggestion to return to school, to the detriment of their health and wellbeing, is disgraceful,” the letter states.

“All we ask of the Department is the option of predicted grades, and an abolition of the Government’s ‘Leaving Cert at all costs’ plan”.

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