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Debunked: Department of Education says as of now, it is not ordering all schools to close

Rumours were circulating on WhatsApp and on social media today that all schools nationwide are to be closed.

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THE DEPARTMENT OF Education has said that as of now, it is not ordering all primary and secondary schools to close over the coronavirus outbreak. 

A large volume of rumours had circulated on WhatsApp and social media today suggesting that an announcement was imminent about all schools nationwide to be closed for a period of weeks. 

In a statement released this afternoon, the Department of Education said it was liaising closely with the Department of Health but that schools were not being closed. 

The Department is believed to have made the statement this afternoon in response to the large amount of misinformation being spread on social media and WhatsApp today. 

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it.
WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 Email: answers@thejournal.ie 

So far, there have been 24 cases of Covid-19 confirmed in the Republic of Ireland and a further 16 in Northern Ireland.

The Department said that public health professionals will contact schools if there is any action to be taken.

Schools “should not take unilateral action,” the department said.

“The Department is deeply conscious of the significance of decisions concerning school closures, and the potential impact any such decisions would have on parents, families and the wider community,” it added.

This is an evolving situation and the health advice is being updated on a daily basis. The Department of Education and Skills and Department of Health will continue to work closely together on this issue.

Any decision to close schools will be made on public health advice, the department said. 

“There is no such advice at this point,” it said. “It is essential that any decisions regarding responses to Covid-19 are proportionate, necessary and based on specific public health advice. No other response is appropriate.”

Escalating measures put in place to help prevent the spread of the virus and protect the public have been put in place by a number of bodies. Today, Trinity College Dublin said it would be closing the Book of Kells exhibition and that lectures would be held online.

WhatsApp rumours

President of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) Alan Mongey says he has been fielding queries about rumours that have been flying around.

“Just from talking to other principals around the country and getting messages from them, whether it be WhatsApp groups or emails, there seems to be a lot of information floating around that something imminent is going to happen,” he said. 

“Someone sent me a press clipping from the Connaught Telegraph website that suggested something like that might happen, but it’s certainly not something we’ve heard from the department itself [or] that it’s something that’s imminent.”

“It’s the rumour mill going into overdrive at the moment.”

Asked whether principals have been in contact about potential closures, Mongey says this is also happening but that parents should be aware that they will contacted directly by schools if there are any major changes:

“Parents are increasingly becoming concerned about the widespread spread of it around but schools have been keeping parents well informed. Every school will have what we call their management information systems where they’re able to text out information very quickly to all parents within a school.”

“So they’ll text the right information directly and provide a link to either documents that the department have provided with us or the steps that schools are starting to take.”

In a statement this afternoon, Fianna Fáil’s education spokesperson Thomas Byrne said that the Department of Education must ramp up its contingency planning. 

“While I hope that serious disruption will not take place, it is important that plans are put in place well ahead of time,” he said.

At last night’s press briefing, Department of Health chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan described the lockdown measures in Italy as “pretty severe restrictions, from an economic point of view from a social point of view”.

He said these measures would cause “major economic and social impacts within that country, for people living there it must be very challenging”.

When asked why Ireland has not put in place similar restrictions yet, he said the government has to ensure it does not implement measures too early, as they may lose the public’s compliance if the situation continues for a long time.

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There is a lot of false news and scaremongering  being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not.

 STOP, THINK AND CHECK 

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always – a sign that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

 

With reporting from Rónán Duffy, Michelle Hennessy and Christine Bohan 

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Sean Murray

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