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Taoiseach: No return to widespread contact tracing in school settings

But Micheál Martin said that NPHET or the HSE may pilot antigen testing in some settings off the back of ECDC advice.

Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said that there will be no return to “widespread” contact tracing in schools, despite an increase in cases this month and the incidence of Covid-19 highest among the 5-12 age group.

On Monday 27 September, contact tracing in schools was stopped: if a child was a close contact of a positive Covid-19 cases in a school setting, they would not have to restrict their movements if they had no symptoms. 

The testing of asymptomatic close contacts in childcare facilities and primary education was also discontinued. 

Children aged 12 and under will still have to restrict their movements and have a Covid-19 test if they are a close contact from a household setting.

Towards the end of September, there was around 5% positivity among children who were the close contacts of a school case, compared to a 25% positivity among children who were close contacts of household cases.

This meant that children who weren’t testing positive for Covid-19 were missing school while self-isolating. 

In recent days, due to the rise in Covid-19 cases, there has been some suggestion that there would be a return to contact tracing in schools, or that testing may take plae.

Speaking at the opening of the new 40-bed modular unit at Tipperary University Hospital, the Taoiseach said:

I spoke to the Chief Medical Officer an hour before I arrived – there’s no return to widespread contact tracing for children because we don’t want children out of school for 10 days unnecessarily.

The Taoiseach said that the ECDC advice had “arrived in recent days” that suggested there may be a need for the HSE or NPHET to pilot the use of antigen testing “in selected situations” in schools, but “not on a widespread basis as of yet”.

“Covid is spread in the community more than in schools, and that basically schools have remained safe places for children.”

“Schools are safe places,” he said, but added that there are “wider issues” around respiratory illnesses more generally. 

“The CMO was at pains to point out to me, and I’ve had it confirmed on the ward here, the real issue for children is other respiratory illnesses.”

He said that there aren’t many children hospitalised with Covid-19, but there were hospitalisations of children with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

The latest HSPC data shows that 313 RSV cases were notified this week, with 91% of these cases in the 0-4 age group.

Cases of RSV in Ireland are increasing, the HPSC said, and remain “at higher levels than usually observed at this time of year”.

The Taoiseach also said that Ireland could approve the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines to children aged between five and 12 in the next month.

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The US Food and Drug Administration recently approved the use of jabs for children in that age cohort, and the European Medicines Agency is set to consider the same measure.

Micheál Martin said Ireland’s National Immunisation Advisory Committee will also consider the move, but it is “some weeks away”.

With reporting from the Press Association.

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