Taoiseach defends Covid measures in schools amid calls for reinstatement of classroom contact tracing as cases rise

TAOISEACH Micheál Martin insisted the government will work with school principals, teachers and teachers’ unions to help schools reach Christmas holidays despite challenges posed by the latest wave of the Covid pandemic -19.

r Martin insisted that all public health evidence provided to the government is that the virus spreads in communities and then introduced into schools rather than the other way around – but would not be derived from the eventual reintroduction of research into contacts in classrooms.

However, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the government’s response to the fourth wave of the virus was “a day late and a dollar short”.

Le Taoiseach said the antigen testing regimen being rolled out next week would greatly help schools – and said he supported the provision of the new Covid-19 juvenile vaccine for people aged five to twelve. years.

Canada is already rolling out the juvenile jab.

The Daily Indo: Chaos in the classroom – Covid, children and antigen kits

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However, Mr Martin acknowledged that even if the European Medicines Agency (EMA) ratifies the jab next week, it is unlikely to be rolled out in Ireland for young people before Christmas.

His comments came as the Irish National Teachers’ Organization (INTO) demanded the immediate reinstatement of public health supports cut last September, including contact tracing in schools.

INTO boss John Boyle pointed out that the number of children between the ages of five and 12 who contract the virus has tripled since September.

“The chief medical officer (Dr Tony Holohan) and public health boards have been consistent on this point in terms of disease generated within the community and introduced into schools,” the Taoiseach said as he planted a tree. in the Terence MacSwiney community. College in Cork. Speaking on RTÉ this morning, Dr Holohan also once again insisted that this was the case.

“This has been the consistent message. The antigen testing regime will be rolled out next week and it will be useful for schools,” Taoiseach said.

“We will do whatever we need to do to support teachers, to help principals and school principals get through this pandemic and get through this phase of the pandemic.

“We have a few weeks left before Christmas time and I think we can work together to make it easier for children and students to learn in our education system and in child care.”

He said he would speak with the Education and Training Council later and had a number of measures in place to alleviate difficulties for schools in finding replacement teachers to cover growing absences.

He said the government would follow Nphet and HSE’s advice on schools.

“Balance has always been the absolute importance of children’s education for their development,” he said.

“With a very helpful heavy heart, we had to close schools in the early stages of the pandemic.

“It’s not good for children and it’s not good for young people.”

The Taoiseach added, “Part of the public health concern more recently was the RSV virus and other viruses that children were catching. This caused more admissions to children’s hospitals than Covid-19.

“We are aware of the concerns and will work with partners and address them then.”

Mr Martin said he personally supports the rollout of the juvenile vaccine, which has been approved by US officials and is awaiting EMA approval, but he did not believe Irish under-12s would get it before Christmas.

“You’re not looking in terms of immediate administration of this due to the fact that it would be a different operation – you’re looking at a much lower vaccine volume for children compared to adults, but it’s something to do with it. horizon and on the agenda, “he said.

“But again, it’s all in the context of the advice we’re going to receive. Before Christmas? I’m not sure that can happen before Christmas given what it would take organizationally and logistically to put it into place. square.”

He again urged those who had not yet received a vaccine to get one, and said we should see an impact from the recall campaign in hospitals soon.

“I would ask those who are not yet vaccinated to really think about it, to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones, then anyone who is notified of a recall, please take the booster as quickly as possible.” he said.

Mr Martin also acknowledged the challenges facing the virus testing industry.

“We all have to recognize the extraordinary capacity that we have accumulated in PCR tests – it is one of the strongest in Europe – it was 200,000 tests last week,” he said.

“What you are reflecting there is the spread of disease and symptoms etc. – we will continue to work to increase PCR testing, but it has increased tremendously.

“I remember similar comments around this time last year and people saying you have to reach 100,000 capacities – we are now at 200,000 for PCR testing.

“This was supplemented with antigen testing because there has been an expansion of antigen testing in terms of close contacts, in terms of serial testing in meat processing plants and nursing homes and in higher education terms, etc. will continue to work to increase capacity. “

The Taoiseach declined to be drawn to speculation about another lockdown in Ireland, but insisted the country was in a very different place from around this time last year.

“We’re in a different phase of the pandemic, so the response doesn’t have to be similar to the response in the past when we didn’t have mass vaccination, for example,” he said.

“So overall we have a very high vaccination rate which largely protects the population against hospitalization or intensive care or against serious illness.

“We are aware that last week’s decisions resulted in a lot of hospitality cancellations and we are very aware of that and it has had an impact. So we will be evaluating all of this tonight.

“With regard to the unemployment payment in the event of a pandemic, it has again come down to around 60,000 from around 600,000 due to the reopening of the economy and the reopening of society.

“Now, within the hospitality industry itself, there has been a lot of comments and feedback over the past couple of months indicating that there are shortages in the hospitality industry itself, so we will assess whether the hotel industry can absorb all the staff who might not be fully engaged in the nighttime economy. because of the measures we have taken. “

“So this is something that we will also be evaluating, but as it stands, the comments have been one of the many vacancies in the hospitality industry and challenges in terms of recruiting staff. C ‘is the balance that must be weighed in this regard. “

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the government’s response to Wave Four is consistently “a day late and a dollar short”.

“I recognize that all of this is difficult, a pandemic is difficult and this virus is awful. I know this because I was one of the very many people who were sick with the virus, ”she said today during a walkabout in Moore Street in Dublin.

“[The government] is just short of the beat. In terms of antigen testing, in terms of rollout of the booster vaccine, it’s too slow. So I think the government now needs to catch up. It takes a big boost. These booster shots are really, really important. I think we all have to realize that the virus is still there, ”said MP McDonald.

“I don’t think anyone at this point should be talking about blockages or mass restrictions. At the end of the day, people have to live, businesses have to operate. The government must do its job and move forward. And then the rest of us need to use our cop-on and be fully and intelligently informed of how we behave, ”she added.

Speaking about the spread of Covid in elementary schools, MP McDonald said the government needs to reintroduce contact tracing and do more with respect to air quality in classrooms.

“It comes down to the air quality in schools, so we need the government to be much more active in this regard by providing filters and providing these safety measures. It was also a mistake in our opinion, to stop the tracing of contacts from the schools. It was a big mistake, ”she added.

“But let me also say this, I am very aware that parents across the country are eager for their children to go to school and especially children with additional needs. It is important that we keep our schools safe. The question and the challenge for Norma Foley in particular, but for the government collectively, is to do things now that they should have been done weeks and months ago, ”Ms. McDonald said.

“It means proper filtration, good air quality in schools, and it also means there has to be some form of contact tracing and then the use of antigen testing, which we have been so slow. It’s just amazing, ”she added.

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