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Two-metre rule makes reopening schools in September difficult, minister says

The minister said he will publish a road map for the reopening of schools in two weeks.

Image: Leah Farrell

EDUCATION MINISTER JOE McHugh has said it is difficult to see all students being able to return to school in September if the two-metre social distancing rule remains in place.

Schools are due to reopen on a phased basis in early September, according to the Government’s road map for lifting Covid-19 restrictions.

Speaking on RTE radio’s Today with Sarah McInerney the minister said:

“With the two-metre rule still in place it’s hard to see all students being back in September.”

The minister said he will publish a road map for the reopening of schools in two weeks.

At the NPHET briefing on yesterday, the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan insisted the advice on the recommended social distancing measure being two metres remained.

Health Minister Simon Harris also tweeted a reminder today that the two-metre rule remains in place.

He acknowledged in the Dáil yesterday that some businesses will be unable to adhere to the two-metre rule.

The comments come after ministers had a meeting with Holohan yesterday, where a number of them voiced their opinion that the social distancing rules should be reduced to one metre.

A number of sectors, such as pubs and restaurants, have highlighted the potential economic and societal benefits of a reduction.

However, speaking today, McHugh said:

“We’re clear on the advice that we have at the moment that it represents, we think, a reasonable interpretation of the evidence and a precautionary approach to its application.

“We think it’s the right measure for now. In relation to every piece of advice, and not just this one, we keep all this under review.”

Labour’s Alan Kelly said yesterday that the two-metre rule will have to change, stating that it is hindering the reopening of non-Covid healthcare.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin also raised concerns about the rule, as well as the 5km travel distance rule stating there is no scientific evidence for it.

Speaking on RTÉ radio today, Junior Minister John Halligan said he also does not agree with the two-metre rule staying in place, stating that the WHO and the ECDC are not adamant that it needs to be two-metres.

“So why are we,” he asked.

“This is having a devastating effect on the economy. The lockdown cannot be exclusively dictated by health alone, our economy is in a seismic shift downwards, which by the way will have a health consequences when all this is over, for people who have lost their jobs and can’t get their jobs back, people can pay their debts and so on. So I think at some stage, we need to examine whether or not the perceived benefit of the lockdown outweighs the cost,” said the Independent TD.

The education minister was also asked about the Leaving Cert today.

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The majority of students – 56,000 – have signed up to the Leaving Certificate calculated grades system. The deadline for students signing up is 10pm this evening.

McHugh said efforts will be made to reach out to students who have not signed up ahead of tonight’s deadline.

“I would encourage the remaining students to get going and if they are having problems they can contact the online helpline.”

The minister defended that teachers’ notes will be destroyed after grades are calculated, and would not be drawn on whether such a move would be of benefit to the students are not.

He said teachers’ unions as well as parents and students were represented in the talks that drew up the calculated grades system, he said.

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