Schools should close this week to limit spread of Covid-19 over Christmas – leading immunologist

Closing school this Friday would create a ‘really long circuit breaker’ – leading immunologistProfessor believes each child would have ‘seven or eight days’ of minimal exposure to Covid-19

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Paul Hyland

A leading immunologist has said schools should close at the end of this week to limit the spread of Covid-19 among young people before they celebrate Christmas in the home.

Professor Christine Loscher of Dublin City University, said closing school this Friday would create a “really long circuit breaker” for children and reduce the risk of schools being forced to close in the new year.

Prof Loscher said the emergence of the Omicron variant has increased the likelihood of the virus spreading among the unvaccinated primary school population in particular.

“The last thing we want to be doing, is to worry about opening schools and my opinion, the kids are in for two and a half days next week. If the schools close this Friday, we have a really long circuit breaker for those children,” she told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne programme.

“If Omicron is two to three times more transmissible, we know that it’s 10 or 11pc of cases at the moment – that’s going to increase next week. That could be up to 50-60pc next week and we have the biggest cohort of unvaccinated people – i.e. children – we will have them mixing to a huge extent coming up to Christmas before we do intergenerational mixing,” she added.

Prof Loscher said by closing schools on Friday, each child would have “seven or eight days” of minimal exposure to Covid-19 and if they have contracted the virus, the symptoms will appear before Christmas day.

“I would like to actually see a joined-up decision where we talk about being sensible and making sure we give ourselves a better chance of a safe opening of schools after Christmas, that we do everything we can to control case numbers now,” she said.

Prof Loscher said keeping schools open - where unvaccinated children are mixing and where HEPA filters are often not present – in the run-up to Christmas does not make sense.

Her comments come as speaking on the same programme yesterday, Minister of State Jack Chambers said further restrictions before Christmas are not likely and added that school closures are “not on the agenda” for Government.

People should take extra caution around the Christmas period, but Mr Chambers said there’s been progress made on reducing the number of people in hospital with the virus and that he didn’t believe there would be further restrictions coming before Christmas.

“We have been very clear; it’s not on the agenda. Government is absolutely committed to keeping schools open,” the Government Chief Whip confirmed.

Regarding the HSE’s announcement that Moderna vaccines will be used as boosters for people aged 30 years and older, Prof Loscher said the decision is appropriate.

She said data shows that Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are “really good at boosting” whether a person has previously had an MRNA vaccine, the single-shot Jansen vaccine or the Astra Zeneca jab.

“I do believe that we have a lot of Moderna at the moment – about one million doses – and we need to make sure we get them out before the expiry dates. That’s what the push on Moderna is. They are going to expire first,” she said.

Prof Loscher added that almost 35pc of the booster doses which were administered in the last week were Moderna, which she described as “just as good as” as a Pfizer booster.

Meanwhile, Prof Loscher said the HSE has to aim for the same capacity in the vaccination system as was achieved during the summer – between 300,000 – 400,000 vaccinations a week – to get ahead of the Omicron variant.

“Otherwise, we’re going to sit here in a couple of weeks’ time and we’re going to be saying, ‘if only we got more boosters out we might have avoided more restrictions or more lockdowns’.

"We have the time to do it,” she said.

Prof Loscher added that there are “lots of willing people” including GPs and pharmacists who are ready to administer more boosters but they need greater supplies of the vaccines in order to do so.

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