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ECDC warns school re-opening could lead to catastrophe

DUBLIN: The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has warned that the reopening of the school could be catastrophic at a time when the threat of new COVID-19 viruses remains high. The alert comes as the government plans to re-open schools on a phased basis from next month.

Currently 90% of new cases in Ireland are UK variants. The ECDC had earlier pointed out that the measures taken in the previous COVID waves were not sufficient to deal with the new variants. The ECDC said COVID prevention measures and arrangements in schools should be stronger than ever.

The report reminds that failure to augment mitigation measures to deal with COVID variants of concern (VOCs) in schools and the wider community means schools will have to close again. “Increased community circulation of SARS-CoV-2 VOCs may lead to the need for school closures,” the report said.

The ECDC analysis is based on the prediction of the London Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases (CMMID) on the UK variant.

The CMMID forecast that the reproduction number or the R rate could not be lowered below 1 unless strict controls similar to the lockdown in England were effectively enforced in November 2020, including the closure of primary schools, secondary schools and universities. The warning continues that the reopening of schools could lead to a major resurgence of the virus.

Irish scientists also responded positively to these warnings. “Overall there was a lower transmissibility rate in schools. But the UK variant is hypertransmissible,” a senior source in the Irish scientific community said.

“If you put a million people on the move, it’s not known what will happen because schools have been closed since before Christmas and because of what is not known it could be catastrophic. The country could be back to a Christmas situation again. You cannot take the chance. So that is why the reopening has to be very cautious,” he added.

The Department of Education responded that the schools would be reopened only with caution and in a phased manner in accordance with public health advice. The department said it has taken preventive measures, including better public health teams for schools, complete contact tracing and bulk fast-track testing within the school setting.

Indications are that the refusal of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to inform parents about the re-opening of schools is likely to come as a result of the ECDC warning.

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