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Acting CMO: Covid-19 clusters in schools 'virtually inevitable' once they re-open

Ronan Glynn said NPHET was not likely to recommend closing all schools if clusters break out.

Ronan Glynn, Acting Chief Medical Officer
Ronan Glynn, Acting Chief Medical Officer
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THE ACTING CHIEF Medical Officer has said he accepts that it is “virtually inevitable” that Covid-19 clusters will occur in schools when they re-open.

But Dr Ronan Glynn told reporters at a press briefing this evening that although clusters were likely in schools, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) would not recommend the closure of all schools at once if this occurred.

His comments came after health officials confirmed that there has been one new death related to Covid-19 in Ireland, as well as 40 new cases the virus here.

There have been concerns about the potential spread of Covid-19 in schools ahead of their re-opening in coming weeks, particularly after a cluster of the coronavirus was reported in a creche in the east of the country this week.

However, Glynn said that NPHET believed schools need to re-open for the benefit of children despite the risks associated with doing so.

“It is virtually inevitable there will be clusters when schools re-open,” he said.

“There is no zero risk so it is likely unfortunately. But we have to balance the risk of infection versus their needs as children to educational attainment.

He also explained that individual schools may have to close because of the virus, but said NPHET would not take a “blanket approach” if and when Covid-19 clusters occur.

“It may need to happen that a school closes, but the hope would be that in the main, it would only be children in close contacts with a case who might have to restrict their movements,” he said.

Separately, Professor Philip Nolan, who chairs the epidemiological modelling advisory group on NPHET, revealed that the R number for the virus in the past week is estimated to be be around 1.56.

However, he noted that an exact figure for the R number in the past week is difficult to define, as case numbers are changing so much on a daily basis.

Nolan also reported that there have been 898 cases of Covid-19 in the last two weeks, giving an incidence rate of 18.9 per 100,000 people.

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Of those cases, 339 have been in Kildare, 150 have been in Dublin, 102 have been in Offaly, 70 have been in Laois, 40 have been in Limerick, and 32 have been in Clare.

Nolan also said that the 14-day cumulative incidence rate remains high in Kildare, Laois and Offaly, and said Clare, Limerick, Donegal, Wexford and Carlow were also experiencing smaller outbreaks.

Glynn explained that NPHET was not confident that community transmission from outbreaks in Kildare, Laois and Offaly – which went into lockdown last week after a spike in cases associated with meat plants and Direct Provision centres – had been avoided.

He said that it was wrong to assume that the cases in those three counties were located solely near where meat plants were based, saying those who had contracted the virus lived and socialised across Kildare, Laois and Offaly and in adjacent counties.

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