Coronavirus Ireland: Tony Holohan says children more likely to get Covid-19 at home or in community than at school

Dr Tony Holohan has the defended the decision to remove routine contact tracing from primary schools, saying children are more likely to catch Covid-19 at home or in the community.

t the end of September, Nphet’s decision to end school contact tracing was met with opposition from organisations including teacher unions and members of the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG).

Now an INTO survey has revealed that in the first two weeks of this month, a minimum of 3,726 pupils and 605 teachers tested positive for Covid-19 – figures which the union said proves that contact tracing must be resumed in school settings.

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However, Dr Tony Holohan has argued that data collected when schools resumed at the end of August, showed that Covid-19 positivity levels in primary schools decreased as testing increased.

“We had clear evidence when schools resumed – it was the first time we saw school resumption with high levels of Delta transmission – the level of testing in that age group went very, very high.
“We had a huge increase in the number of people having PCR tests in the 5–12-year age group and what actually happened is the test positivity fell significantly,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme.

Dr Holohan admitted that the increased testing meant more cases were identified but said that it “wasn’t a true increase in the underlying incidence of the disease”.

He argued that international research shows when schools follow public health measure “really, really well”, it helps to make them “low risk situations in relative terms”.

“The reason that children in the 5-12-year age group are getting infections, they’re for the most part picking this infection up in the community and at home rather than necessarily transmitting it in the school,” he added.

Speaking on the same programme, INTO general secretary John Boyle said principals have been “abandoned” by public health.

Mr Boyle argued that the only workplace in the country which has no public health support is the primary school setting.

“The public health supports that were there until the 27th of September were serving the system well. Schools were open last year for 30 out of 37 weeks. The case numbers were a hell of a lot lower than now.

“Then Delta came in at the beginning of September to schools and it has really caused massive difficulties and we have nobody to help us. We can’t even get a call from public health. So, principals are abandoned and left on their own to try and deal with it and they’re not qualified to do so,” he said.

Mr Boyle said his union and its members want to keep schools open, but a number of key interventions are needed to support the sector.

They include sourcing more substitutes teachers to cover sick leave, increasing the amount of CO2 monitors and HEPA filters in schools and the return of routine contact tracing.

In reaction to Dr Holohan’s assertion that schools are a “low risk situation” for Covid-19 transmission, Mr Boyle pointed to a recent European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) report which deemed school as high risk.

“If there’s a high risk throughout the world, it’s probably a high risk in Ireland as well and we need to deal with these risks by increasing public health measures,” he said.

“We need to deal with substitutions by making more teachers available – there are teaching students available. I think that Government has to step in and make those measures immediately,” he added.

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