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Labour calls for NPHET to perform a risk assessment on schools before they return

People Before Profit has called for schools to remain closed for the month of January.

Labour's Ged Nash (L) and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (R)
Labour's Ged Nash (L) and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (R)
Image: RollingNews.ie

Updated Jan 3rd 2021, 10:31 AM

THE LABOUR PARTY has called on the National Public Health Emergency Team to carry out a public health risk assessment on reopening schools.

Labour’s education spokesperson, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has said that his preference is that schools open as long as it can be done safely.

Ó Ríordáin welcomed the decision to delay the reopening of schools, but said as the virus is rampant in the community there needed to be an assessment of health risks to staff, students and the wider community.

“I am calling on the government to ask NPHET to urgently carry out a public health risk assessment on whether schools can safety reopen on January 11th.

“The government should also agree to abide by the public health advice given. Based on the level of disease in the community many schools may also struggle to get sufficient staff back into schools in a weeks time.”

Ó Ríordáin said that the same risk assessment should take place within childcare facilities, but that care options for essential workers must remain open.

“I do want to emphasise that schools remaining open is the preferred option once it can be done safely. It is disadvantaged students and children who suffer most from closures.”

Speaking in his address to the nation on 30 December, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that based on public health information he had received, schools remain safe.

“All public health analysis is showing that schools are safe, and schools will reopen, but slightly delayed to 11 January.

By extending the break by three days, the new restrictions I am announcing this evening will be in place for more than 10 days when schools open.  Families will have had an opportunity to ensure that their contacts are minimised before children return to school.

In his letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly on 30 December, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said that NPHET gave specific consideration to the reopening of schools.

“The NPHET was of the view that schools should reopen as planned,” said Holohan in the letter.

“However, the NPHET did note that the high and rising levels of community transmission will become a risk to the ongoing provision of education at primary and secondary level unless these levels of transmission can be addressed.”

People Before Profit has called for schools to stay shut this month due to the surge in Covid positive cases, hospitalisations and in ICU admissions.

“Micheál Martin and his partners in Government chose to prioritise opening up the pubs, restaurants, shops and hotels over our public health. It is a huge tragedy and political betrayal of the Irish people, but it is no surprise that we have seen the numbers spike in the last week,” Bríd Smith said. 

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“More and more, voices from the medical and scientific communities are calling for a Zero Covid strategy and increasingly teachers, their unions and parents are calling for schools to remain closed. Schools are not safe in this current crisis.”

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said there will be engagements involving Minister Foley, education partners, and public health advisors closer to the 11 January to decide if schools should open. 

“I’m sure whatever the right decision is will be one that’s made.”

He added that the government would like to see childcare facilities open for vulnerable children and those of frontline workers. He said more clarity would be given on this later today. 

- With reporting from Adam Daly 

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