Schools will open as planned on Monday despite teacher concerns, Taoiseach says

Micheal Martin said he believes strike action can be avoided and that schools are “essential” for children’s mental well being.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin (Julien Behal/PA)

Taoiseach Micheal Martin (Julien Behal/PA)

By James Ward and Michelle Devane, PA

Schools will reopen as planned next week after the mid-term break, the Taoiseach has confirmed.

Micheal Martin moved to reassure parents on Thursday that children would return to their classrooms on Monday as a large cohort of secondary-school teachers threatened strike action.

He said: “We’re saying they will open, of course they’ll open on Monday.

“There is a genuine desire to keep our schools open.”

Mr Martin said schools were “essential” for children’s mental wellbeing, socialisation and life chances subsequently, and that it was a “very important” this generation of children do not become “victims of this virus” in future years.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin (Julien Behal/PA)

Taoiseach Micheal Martin (Julien Behal/PA)

“Schools are safe,” Mr Martin said. He added that older children are safer inside of schools than outside of them.

“It’s a critical thing for society if we can keep children in a productive learning environment, he said.

Asked whether it was possible for strike action to be averted, Mr Martin replied: “I would hope so, yes. Many teachers don’t want to go down that route.”

He said the Government would do everything it possibly can to support teachers and special-needs assistants to keep schools safe.

The Taoiseach was speaking at the launch of the Government’s keep well campaign aimed at supporting people through the pandemic.

His comments come after members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) voted in favour of industrial action over school safety during Covid-19 and equal pay.

A HSE briefing heard on Thursday that fewer than five school facilities have been closed due to Covid-19.

Dr Abigail Collins, a consultant in public health medicine, said the number children of school going age who have contracted the virus has remained steady since schools reopened.

Schools are not incubators and exacerbators of infections of Covid-19

Dr Abigail Collins

She said: “The actual proportion of children aged between four and 18 years who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 has remained fairly stable over the time period from before children were in school, to since they’ve been in school.

“From August when children weren’t in school, about 14.5% of all confirmed cases were within the school age setting.

“In September that went to 14.9% and in October when we’ve seen a huge a increase of transmission and a huge increase in numbers, it’s got to 15.6%.

“So the proportion at population level has remained remarkably stable.”

She added: “The proportion of confirmed cases gives us confidence that what was considered in the time period before going back to school has been proven to be true.

“Schools are not incubators and exacerbators of infections of Covid-19.”

Of those who did test positive schools, about 86% were students, and around 14% were staff or adults.

Among that the adults testing positive in schools, there are about 3% among the primary staff, 2.6% in post-primary and 3.1% amongst the special educational needs staff, Dr Collins said.

There were around 70 facilities where intra-school transmission was identified, with the average number of onward cases there standing at three.

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Dr Collins said their was a difficulty in determining if transmission has occurred in schools or in the wider community.

She said: “If you know that there’s a friendship group for example who were socialising out of school, and they were all positive, how do you say it’s because they were sitting at the desk together?

“Or how do you say it was because they were watching a movie together or something like that. So it is a very difficult judgement to make.

“It’s not a black and white, it’s not a tick boxes, where it was definitely that scenario. It’s like a game of Cluedo, it’s a judgement on the whole amount of information that goes into making that judgement. ”

She added: “We like to be negative, not optimistic with our numbers. So if we think it could have been, we put it into the pot, because that’s the safest thing to do.”

Thursday saw six further deaths related to Covid-19 in Ireland and an additional 866 confirmed cases.

There are now 43 patients in intensive care units with the virus, an increase of two in the last 24 hours.

The total number of people in hospital with the virus is 328, up by 15 on the previous day.

The figures bring the total number of Covid019 related deaths in Ireland to 1,902, with 60,297 confirmed cases.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “It is vitally important that if you are experiencing symptoms of Covid-19 that you self-isolate and phone your GP for further advice.

“Self-isolate means stay in your room and avoid contact with other members of your household. Doing this will protect those you live with by interrupting the chain of transmission.”

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