Schools in Ireland reopen despite Covid concerns

The National Public Health Emergency Team will meet later on Thursday to discuss the latest coronavirus situation.

Schools in Ireland have reopened, amid warnings that Covid-19 will keep thousands of teachers at home in the days to come (Brian Lawless/PA)
Schools in Ireland have reopened, amid warnings that Covid-19 will keep thousands of teachers at home in the days to come (Brian Lawless/PA)

Schools in Ireland have reopened, amid warnings that Covid-19 will keep thousands of teachers at home in the days to come.

Earlier this week, public health chiefs told school managers and unions that it is safe to return to the classroom, despite the high case numbers.

Concerns remain among teachers’ unions, which are calling for increased protective measures for staff and students to be implemented.

Education officials and principals are hoping that relying on trainee teachers and replacements will be enough to cope with Covid-related absences.

But the Government has acknowledged that the coming weeks will bring fresh challenges for staff, parents and pupils.

Substitute teachers who spoke to the PA news agency said they are concerned about the pressures that schools are under.

Sorcha Ni Chonghaile, a 22-year-old primary school teacher from Meath, is mostly based in and around north Dublin.

She said she and her colleagues are “scared” but will be taking all the precautions they can.

She is concerned whether there will be enough substitute teachers to plug the gaps, if replacement staff are forced into isolation too.

“I suppose there’s just that fear that, because there’s such little mitigation in the younger years, that we might end up in a situation where we’ve become a close contact ourselves and then there’s no fallback,” she told the PA news agency.

“We just have to do what we can and try and keep ourselves safe.”

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy criticised the way in which schools were reopened, calling it “reckless and unsafe”.

“With case numbers going through the roof, and most schoolchildren unvaccinated and almost all unboostered, this is a recipe for disaster,” he said.

A further 17,656 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Ireland on Wednesday, as the number of people in hospital with the virus continues to rise.

However, politicians have said the fact that the number of people in intensive care remains relatively stable is a good sign for the country.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will meet later on Thursday to discuss the latest Covid situation.

However, senior ministers have indicated that no new restrictions are expected to be recommended.

Health officials are expected to discuss a possible relaxation of the rules for close contacts, given the impact they are having on workplaces.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe told RTE Radio on Thursday: “It is a matter for Nphet in relation to this. It is a public health decision.

“That being said, it is something that is having a very big effect on the operation of many workplaces within our public services and within the private sector.

“And I do believe Nphet will take this into account, but it is a public health decision.”

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said on Wednesday that rising hospital numbers are a concern and urged people to keep up their efforts in following public health advice.

“It is concerning to see the rising number of people with Covid-19 in hospital,” he said.

“This means that our collective efforts to follow the public health advice remain very important.”

As Ireland’s booster programme continues, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said new EU Digital Covid Certificates will be issued to people who have received a third jab as soon as this week.

He said on Wednesday: “Digital Covid Certs will be updated soon to reflect your additional vaccine.

He tweeted: “The EU is applying a maximum 9 mth validity to certs based on a completed primary vaccination course.

“You can also request a DCC of Recovery if you’ve recovered in the last 6months via online portal.”

The new EU travel regulations take effect from February.

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