There was a 48 per cent increase in the number of Covid-19 cases detected among children aged between four and 12 over the seven days to Sunday, new HSE data shows.
There were 2,418 positive cases detected among this age group, comprising mostly unvaccinated primary school children. This compares with 1,632 cases the previous week.
The positive cases were identified in a much larger group of children tested last week. The number tested last week was more than double the previous week. There were 35,433 tests of children aged four to 12 last week compared with 16,229 the week before.
The increased number of cases among unvaccinated primary school students since schools have reopened is resulting in about 1,200 children being forced to restrict their movements every day as close contacts of Covid-19 cases.
Niamh O’Beirne, the HSE’s national lead for testing and tracing, has said about 120 primary schools and 80 secondary schools are contacting the HSE about new cases among students every day.
The high volume of positive tests has put additional strain on the public health response teams, forcing the HSE to add extra staff and resources to assist school principals managing higher numbers of cases.
There was only a slight increase in the number of children aged from zero to three testing positive. The number of teenagers aged 13 to 17, who are eligible for vaccination, testing positive fell to 825 last week from 989 the previous week.
One parent contacted The Irish Times about a Covid-19 case in a boarding school that has resulted in their child being sent home after another of the boarders tested positive.
She said that the student in question had not been vaccinated because his parents were opposed to the vaccine and the school cannot enforce compulsory vaccinations. The parent, who asked not to be named, described this as “a crazy anomaly” .
“You can’t get into a restaurant without a vaccination certificate but you can send your unvaccinated child into a boarding school where he’s sharing a confined space with lots of other kids.”
Elsewhere the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has warned its members that college lecturers should walk away from classrooms if they do not feel safe.
The TUI, which represents 4,500 academic staff, said it was “seriously concerned” at the failure of some management to conduct risk assessments for lecture halls and other teaching spaces.
TUI president Martin Marjoram said teachers were entitled to cancel lectures for health and safety reasons such as where some students were refusing to wear face masks or where there was inadequate ventilation.
Guidance from the Department of Further and Higher Education states there are instances where physical distancing is not feasible and other precautionary measures should be in place. The department said it was essential institutions could make their own plans for reopening and communicate them to learners and staff.