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Minister for Health says 'there isn't going to be a longer mid-term break'

Donnelly joined junior minister Niall Collins who earlier rejected suggestions that schools could close for an extended period.

Updated Oct 11th 2020, 1:32 PM

MINISTER FOR HEALTH Stephen Donnelly has said there will not be an extension to the upcoming school mid-term break at the end of this month.

Speaking to RTÉ’s This Week programme, Donnelly said that schools were not contributing to the rise in Covid-19 numbers and dismissed reports the government was considering extending the week-long break.

His comments followed remarks earlier from junior minister Niall Collins who also indicated that there are no plans to close schools for longer than one week for the mid-term break. 

Collins’ comments, which he made on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics programme, come amid speculation that schools could close if a Level 5 lockdown or a temporary ‘circuit break’ was introduced by the government to tackle rising case numbers. 

Collins, the Minister of State at the Department of Further and Higher Education, said that there was “no plan to close schools longer than the one-week break”.

He said that students had faced enough upheaval this year and that the government owed it to them to prevent further disruption to their education. 

“We owe it to them to keep our schools open,” Collins said. 

“The schools remaining open are a huge priority of this government,” he said. 

“I don’t think the parents of children and the children themselves would thank us were we to close the schools.”

In a statement this afternoon, Martin also said that keeping schools open remains “a key priority of government”.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the Department of Education and Skills said that no decision has been taken to extend schools’ midterm breaks.

“To date the evidence demonstrates that schools have reopened safely supported by significant investment to support all infection prevention and control measures recommended by the public health authorities,” the spokesperson said.

Keeping schools safely open for children and staff is a key priority at all levels of the government’s Plan for Living with COVID-19.

Collins did not provide further clarity on what measures were being considered by the government. He said that the Cabinet would take advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team. 

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Tánaiste Leo Varadkar this weekend suggested that a “short, hard lockdown to knock the virus on the head again” – or a circuit break – could be considered and implemented by the government in the near future.

It comes days after the government rejected NPHET’s recommendation that the entire country moves to Level 5 to suppress an alarming rise in Covid-19 cases.

Concerns have been expressed about the impact an extended school closure would have on the development of students. 

As of 6 October, 252 schools have had/are having some testing completed as a consequence of a public health risk assessment. Nearly 6,000 students and teachers have been involved in mass testing.

From the 252 schools that had mass tests there have been an additional 112 detected cases over and above original cases. 

With reporting from Christina Finn, Sean Murray

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