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Holohan says it's 'right time' to ease Covid measures in schools

Contact tracing is being halted in childcare and primary schools.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER Dr Tony Holohan said evidence indicates that schools are a low risk setting for the transmission of the coronavirus as the rules on close contacts are set to change from tomorrow.

With contact tracing set to stop in childcare and primary schools, Dr Holohan said now is the “right time” to evolve the approach while maintaining infection prevention and control measures in educational settings.

The public health chief said the return of children and young people to school earlier this month was associated with a “significant increase” in the numbers of children referred for testing.

However he said that despite the increase in testing, there has “only been a relatively modest” increase in the detection of cases in the school going age group.

“Both nationally and internationally, the evidence tells us that schools are a low risk setting for the transmission of Covid-19 among school-going children,” Dr Holohan said.

Now is the right time to evolve our contact tracing approach, while maintaining the infection prevention and control measures in place in educational settings.

Contact tracing of close contacts in childcare facilities and primary education and testing of asymptomatic close contacts in childcare facilities and primary education will no longer be necessary from tomorrow.

Dr Holohan said children aged 12 or under, who are identified as close contacts in childcare and educational settings or other non-household settings and who are asymptomatic will no longer be required to routinely restrict movements.

Cases in Special Educational Needs settings, and respite care should have a Public Health Risk Assessment which may still require children to be identified as close contacts, be referred for testing and have their movements restricted.

However Dr Holohan said that given the substantially higher risk of transmission in households, children aged 12 years or under, who are identified as household close contacts, will still be required to restrict movements and be tested, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms.

Public health advice also remains that any child aged 12 years or under who displays symptoms consistent with Covid-19 should rapidly self-isolate, not attend childcare or school or socialise and follow all medical and public health guidance.

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“At this point in the pandemic, we are all very familiar with the public health advice that will continue to keep us safe, both in school and as we take part in all of the other hobbies and activities that are available to us,” Dr Holohan said.

“Vaccination remains our best means of protection against Covid-19. The vaccines available in Ireland are very safe and effective against Covid-19. If vaccination is available to you, then I strongly encourage you to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible.

“Continue to regularly wash hands, wear a mask when appropriate – particularly in retail settings, on public transport and in healthcare settings; keep your distance, open windows and ventilate indoor spaces.

“The most important action to take is – if you display symptoms of Covid-19 like cough, fever, fatigue, headache, or sore throat – isolate and contact your GP who will advise if you need to arrange a test.”

Public health officials confirmed a further 1,459 cases of Covid-19 in Ireland today. A total of 296 people were in hospital with the illness, including 65 in intensive care units.

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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