The high number of school-age children testing positive for Covid -19 does not mean those children are catching Covid in school, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said.
Mr Donnelly said: “Some people are jumping to a conclusion that says because we have these high case numbers in school-age children that all this transmissions must be happening in the schools.” But, he added: “The advice I am consistently getting from Nphet and from the public health experts is that a majority of the transmission is happening outside the schools.”
He said the advice from Nphet was to reduce social contact levels among children.
“What Nphet said quite rightly is, if we are going to reduce contact we should do it in the areas where transmission is higher. So that is not in the schools, it is outside the schools.”
Speaking on RTÉ’s Prime Time on Tuesday night Mr Donnelly said that although there was no longer contact tracing in schools “public health experts do get involved when there is an outbreak in schools” and so the information on what was happening in schools was reliable.
He said the position of the Government was that “whatever is recommended to us as an extra layer of protection, we will do”.
“Ultimately the advice to Government, which is what we have to go on, is that the ventilation measures in place in schools, the CO2 monitors and the rest is sufficient,” he said.
Mr Donnelly said, “what we do know” is that cases were falling for all age groups including all children who were in school. “Now if we weren’t dealing with Omicron [Covid variant] which has hit the entire world, from the side I would be cautiously optimistic about where things are going.”
But he warned with the “unknowns around the new variant” it would not be possible to say what would happen in January.
Mr Donnelly said there may be at least 15 Covid-19 cases already in Ireland which were being investigated as possible Omicron variants. He said: “It’s 10 or 11 in November and then at least four in October . . . The advice I have is that it’s likely that at least some, maybe all of these are Omicron, and we may see exactly the same pattern in other countries around the world.” He said Government actions were aimed at “slowing it down in Ireland”.
He said: “We are slowing it down in Ireland using the measures that are working on Delta . . . The plan in terms of Delta is working, the latest figures we have really are very encouraging. We need to go further than that. We want to slow down the import into the country and that is exactly what the PCR and the antigen test will do.”
While the new requirement for tests on arrivals in Ireland was “not perfect” because of the possibility of catching Covid after taking the test and before arrival in Ireland, he said it would still pick up “a lot”.