Teacher who got Covid-19 last year ‘could not breathe’ during walk

Delegates tell ASTI conference of health concerns around return to school

A teacher who caught Covid-19 last year has told of how he “could not breathe” three minutes into a walk this week.

Eugene Grace, an ASTI delegate from the Nenagh branch, told the secondary teachers' union's annual conference on Wednesday of the impact the virus had had on his health.

“I do not want any other teacher to go through what I have gone through. Up until last October I was a very fit, healthy man with no health issues. Then I contracted Covid-19 in my workplace,” he said.

“Over the last six months I have been in three different ambulances, including where my deputy principal had to call the ambulance, countless doctors visits and in hospital twice. Currently I am batling pleurisy as we speak.


“Yesterday I tried to go for a walk. After three minutes I could not breathe. I have had massive periods of ill health and it has turned my life upside down.”

“I dare any member of the public or the Cabinet or Nphet or Niac to go into a school and follow a secondary teacher around for one day. If you were inside in a classroom with 25 or 30 big 18-year-olds, you would be calling for vaccination too. The consequences here are too great for people.

"There are around 37,000 secondary teachers in Ireland. If you are talking about vaccinating a quarter of a million people per week, how long would it take to vaccinate secondary school teachers."

Delegates at the conference voted by 281 to 70 to back a joint motion with other teaching unions mandating a ballot on strike action if the Government did not agree to schedule by the end of the current school year vaccination on a priority basis for teachers.

Delegate Siobhan O’Donovan said she was fearful about returning to school.

She said she was teaching in a portacabin with 26 or 27 18-year-old men.

“I know in my heart that is not a safe environment. I do not need science to tell me that inside in a room with poor ventilation and 28 to 30 adults is not dangerous. I know it is dangerous.”

She said she would go back to school next week with very mixed emotions.

“I will be delighted to see some of my students, particularly those in first year. But I am scared. I am scared I will contract this dreadful disease. I will not go back in September unless I am vaccinated.I will go back remotely and I believe that is what the union should be saying.”

Delegate Fergal Canton said the Government talked about mortality rates among older people. However, he said it did not speak about morbidity rates – the long Covid, the breathlessness, fatigue and the organ damage associated with the disease.

“There will be a flood of cases.”

ASTI immediate past president Deirdre MacDonald said teachers were not seeking to jump the queue. She said teachers were seeking a parallel vaccination rollout system based occupation for those in the front line which would side by side with the age-related process for the general public.

She said: “Teachers’ health was education’s wealth”.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent