Coronavirus: Schools safer than wider community, officials say

The coronavirus infection rate in schools is running at about a third of the rate in the community, showing that schools are safer from the virus, health officials have told Government.

Figures presented to Government over the weekend show there has been an overall positive rate of 2.5 per cent of Covid-19 cases in creches and schools compared with 7.3 per cent overall across testing in the wider community.

The HSE data shows that when broken down further, in primary and secondary schools, the positive rate on mass testing falls to 1.8-1.9 per cent.

The figures come amid calls from teacher unions for clarity on what additional controls would be introduced in schools if the Government were to move to Level 4 or 5 under the Living with Covid plan.

David Geary, assistant general secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), said the Government roadmap referred to precautionary measures being introduced with Level 4 restrictions and a need to take stock with Level 5 but it was not clear what this might mean.

“We would also like to see the latest public health evidence on Covid-19 and schools,” he said.

Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) general secretary Michael Gillespie said his members sought “clarity, consistency and certainty” from Government on “the additional protective measures available under levels 4 and 5”. These were “never clarified”, he said.

The Government said on Saturday after meetings with officials that Ministers were briefed that “children were safer in schools, transmission rates are low and that the continued opening of schools is very important to the development and wellbeing of children and young people”.

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Mass testing

The figures are based on mass testing of close contacts among students and teachers where Covid-19 cases have been detected since schools reopened up to Friday morning.

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