The Government is determined that schools will fully reopen in September despite a spike in Covid cases among children and teens.
Deputy chief medical officer Ronan Glynn said there is now a “particularly high incidence” of Covid-19 among people between 16 and 30 and warned that this is now translating into an increase in hospitalisations and ICU admissions.
Of the 8,027 cases reported in the first two weeks of this month, 2,342 were in those under the age of 18.
This included 382 children under four years 728 aged five to 12 years and 1,232 aged 13 to 18.
In a letter sent to the Government late last month, which resulted in the decision to delay the reopening of indoor hospitality, Nphet warned that “a high level of transmission in late summer could have significant impacts on the reopening of schools and the tertiary education sector in autumn.”
While the vaccination of children between 12 and 16 is now being considered, they are unlikely to be vaccinated before returning to the classroom at the beginning of September.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the HSE will immediately act on any recommendations to extend vaccinations to younger people, however, a final decision on this has yet to be made by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).
“Once we receive that advice we will immediately put that into action, whether that is before schools return or post-schools return. We are looking at all options, and from a HSE perspective we will execute that once the advice comes,” he said.
Mr Reid also told Newstalk the options include mass vaccination centres, pharmacies, schools programmes and GPs.
However, Education Minister Norma Foley is adamant that there will be no return to online learning or homeschooling and children will go back to the classroom in September.
A Department of Education spokesperson said schools will return fully at the end of August/early September in line with their normal planned reopening times.
“Schools’ Covid-19 response plans will be updated by the department and will be available for schools in advance of reopening. It is not envisaged that there will be any updates that require schools to take action in advance of normal reopening,” the spokesperson said.
“Public Health have stated that the new variants of the disease do not change the infection prevention and control measures required in schools.”
A communications campaign aimed at parents and students will be introduced in advance of school reopening to inform and remind them of the arrangements in place in schools operating during Covid-19.
“This will include specifically targeted information at new pupils entering primary and post-primary schools to ensure they are familiar with the new arrangements,” the spokesperson said.
So far in Ireland, only teens aged 16 to 17 who are at very high risk from the virus are being vaccinated. Niac is considering whether this could be extended to all children or only to vulnerable children of all ages, or possibly not extended at all.
Chair of Niac Professor Karina Butler has said she is keen to get the best advice to make decisions as soon as possible.
Referring to advice on this, and also on the ‘mix and match’ of using different vaccines together as well as booster shots, she said advice would be forthcoming ‘in the near future.
Today will also see non-essential international travel recommencing, as Ireland officially adopts the EU green cert.
Separately, Gardaíare investigating abusive phonecalls received by chief medical officer Tony Holohan and his deputy Ronan Glynn, and RTÉ’s health correspondent Fergal Bowers.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that public health doctors deserve our respect and support.
“It is absolutely appalling that public health doctors advising government would be targeted with abuse for doing their jobs in the middle of a pandemic,” Mr Donnelly said on Twitter.