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Recent spike in COVID-19 cases among children and teens will not impede reopening of schools in Ireland

DUBLIN: The Government has decided to proceed with its plan to reopen schools fully in September despite a recent surge in COVID-19 cases among children and teenagers.

A total of 8,027 cases were confirmed in Ireland in the first two weeks of this month, of which 2,342 cases were reported in people under 18 years of age. This includes 382 children under the age of four, 728 between the ages of five and twelve, and 1,232 between the ages of 13 and 18. 

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has warned that there is now a high incidence of infection among those aged 16 to 30, which is leading to an increase in hospital and ICU admissions.

Health officials have warned that “a high level of transmission in late summer could have significant impacts on the reopening of schools and the tertiary education sector in autumn”.

Despite these concerns, Education Minister Norma Foley has confirmed that there would be no return to online learning or homeschooling, and that classes for children will begin in September. 

According to a Department of Education spokesperson, the schools will reopen in accordance with the normally planned reopening times, and will be fully operational by the end of August/early September.

The spokesperson said the revised COVID-19 response plans for schools would be implemented and the department would make these available to schools before reopening. However, he clarified that it is not envisaged that there will be updates that require schools to take action in advance of normal reopening.

The spokesperson also noted the department’s plan to organise a communications campaign for parents and students ahead of the school’s reopening. This is to inform and remind them about the arrangements in place in schools functioning during the pandemic. The program will include specially targeted information to ensure that new students are familiar with the new settings, the spokesperson said.

Vaccination for children

HSE chief executive Paul Reid stated that the Health Service Executive will act promptly on any recommendations to extend vaccinations to younger people. However, Mr. Reid said the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) has yet to make a final decision on the matter.

“Once we receive that advice we will immediately put that into action, whether that is before schools return or post-schools return.” He added that HSE would consider all options such as mass vaccination centres, pharmacies, schools programmes and GPs. 

So far, only those aged 16 to 17 in Ireland who are at high risk of contracting the virus are being vaccinated. Chair of NIAC Professor Karina Butler said they are evaluating whether this could be extended to all children or only to vulnerable children of all ages, or possibly not extended at all.

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