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Closing schools this Friday would be 'sensible', says leading immunology professor

Christine Loscher added that schoolchildren are currently the population’s largest unvaccinated group and will be mixing in coming days.

DCU PROFESSOR OF Immunology Christine Loscher has said she believes it would be “sensible” to close schools this Friday in order to have a “really long circuit breaker” in the run-up to Christmas when inter-generational socialising will be high. 

“I think in terms of just being sensible and preparing for the best possible scenario after Christmas … I really think that we should consider closing schools on Friday,” said Loscher, speaking this morning to Claire Byrne.

“Every child then will have at least seven or eight days of very minimal exposure to the virus and other children and mixing, and those symptoms will actually come to the fore before Christmas.”

“If you take your child out of school on Friday, you’ll know before Christmas seven or eight days later whether they have the virus,” she said. 

A Department of Education spokesperson said today to RTÉ that “there are no plans to alter the school break at Christmas,” and added that school holidays are scheduled between teacher unions, school authorities and the Department to standardise these breaks. 

The Department did not respond to a request for comment from The Journal at the time of publication.

Speaking on Newstalk this evening, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he does not think NPHET will recommend closing schools or colleges early at tonight’s meeting with the three party leaders.

“I think one of the things we learned from the lockdown is actually, that has an impact on children’s health, their wellbeing and their education, and I think it’s true that our schools have actually shown the ability, even in very difficult and very trying circumstances, to be a safe place,” he said. 

I’d be strongly arguing that the mental health and the wellbeing of our children is better managed by our schools staying open and our colleges as well. I think it’s very important. A lot of those younger people, particularly in the last two years, have missed out on a lot of socialisation. It has a real impact, and I think we we have to make sure that they aren’t impacted in that way.

When asked if she was advising parents to take children out of school on Friday, Loscher said she was not, but that she wanted “to see a joined-up decision where we … give ourselves a better chance of the safe opening of schools after Christmas”.

Loscher added that school children are currently the population’s largest unvaccinated group, and will have high levels of mixing at schools in the coming days, particularly as HEPA filters have not yet arrived. 

“We’re talking about doing that in the run-up to Christmas when we’re concerned about a highly transmissible variant,” said Loscher, adding “that doesn’t make sense to me in terms of doing everything we can to manage cases.”

Nothing about the schools situation or the possibility of early closures was raised or discussed at Cabinet today.

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