Parents are being asked to avoid situations where children interact with others in a bid to contain the coronavirus threat.
Dr Muireann Ní Chrónín, a consultant respiratory paediatrician at Cork University Hospital, said children risk silently transmitting the virus to more vulnerable members of the community.
In a message being circulated widely on social media, she said paediatric hospitals in Italy are empty after three weeks of school closure because the usual virus stopped circulating.
“Children will get through this no problem,” she said. “Remember with corona children are vectors not victims . In most epidemics young children are the transmitters.
“Therefore, for school closure to be effective, it’s really important that the kids aren’t mixing with other kids while out of school . They will give it to each other and silently pass it on to our loved ones.”
She has urged parents to avoid situations where their children will interact with others as way of limiting the spread of the virus.
“If the community responds to this it will shut it down more than anything we do in hospital . From my experiences in the hospital this last week, I would say that coronavirus is closer to all of us than we realise and the degrees of separation for all of us is getting narrower.”
Her advice echoes that of health authorities and the State’s National Public Health Emergency Team, whose recommendation results in the closure of schools this week.
Dr Ronan Glynn, deputy chief medical officer at the Department of Health, has also advised that while latest data shows there is a good chance children will not be affected if exposed, interaction with others should be minimised.
“Continue to spend time outdoors. The fresh air is good for kids, and for you as parents . But please do this as a family rather than meeting up in groups,” he said.
Dr Anne Marie McLaughlin Respiratory Consultant at St James Hospital in Dublin warned parents that while school were closed, it was “not a school holiday”.
“I would recommend that we stop all interactions of children and adults and teenagers outside of their household contacts,” she told RTÉ News.
“That means no parties, no playdates, no visits to the playground where your children will necessarily interact with other children.”
She also recommended that children should remain in their families units and not visit grandparents for health reasons.
Official Department of Education advice is that all pupils and students – from pre-school to third level – should practice “social distancing and minimise contact with each other” to help avoid the spread of the virus.
“This should include minimising social contact, avoiding meeting up and keeping physical space between them. Parents and guardians are urged to support their children to maintain this approach,” Minister for Education Joe McHugh said, in a statement.
All schools, pre-schools and further and higher education settings, meanwhile, may end up shutting well beyond March 29th to support efforts to contain the virus.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced on Thursday morning that the Government and health authorities decided that a two-week closure was needed in order to delay the spread of the virus.
At a briefing on Thursday evening, Department of Health officials said there was a chance school closures may extend beyond this point depending on the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team.
Some well-placed sources have suggested the school shutdown could extend into the Easter holidays, resulting in a five-week closure.
In the meantime, the Leaving Cert and Junior Cert oral and practical exams are set to be postponed. They were due to take place between March 23rd and April 3rd.
A spokesman for the Department of Education said the State Examinations Commission (SEC) is "actively working with the Department to develop contingency arrangements for the State examinations".
“In the case of orals and practicals that are scheduled for the period of closure, the SEC will work with schools to reschedule these as soon as practicable,” he added.
These tests comprise the Leaving Cert oral tests in Irish, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian and Japanese, along with performance tests in Leaving Cert and Junior Cert music. Practical tests in junior-cycle home economics were also due to take place.
In addition, higher education institutions are drawing up alternative arrangements for May exams.