Covid-19 tests fall sharply as school checks relaxed

Teachers believe change to close contact rules should have been made after midterm break

The change in school Covid-19 case rules, which came into effect on Monday, means that children deemed close contacts of cases in schools do not have to restrict movements or be tested or contact traced. Photograph: Alan Betson

The change in school Covid-19 case rules, which came into effect on Monday, means that children deemed close contacts of cases in schools do not have to restrict movements or be tested or contact traced. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The number of people swabbed for Covid-19 fell sharply as new health rules came into place ending the practice of testing children considered school close contacts of positive cases.

Teachers have complained that the rule change should have been delayed until the Halloween midterm break next month given the current high number of Covid-19 cases among children.

The change, which came into effect on Monday, means that children deemed close contacts of cases in schools do not have to restrict movements or be tested or contact traced.

The guidance does not apply to children identified as close contacts of cases in a household or following a sleepover. They must still be tested, contact traced and stay at home.

New HSE figures show that the number of tests in the community carried out up to lunchtime on Monday fell 28 per cent to 15,000 tests, compared with 21,000 for the same period last week.

The number of tests being carried out was down 22 per cent on Saturday and 30 per cent on Sunday compared with the same days the previous week as the new guidance took effect.

The HSE reported a decline in the number of primary school children, the largest group of unvaccinated people in the country, testing positive for the virus for the second week in a row.

Some 1,918 children aged between four and 12 tested positive during the seven days to Sunday, a fall of 17 per cent on the 2,316 children in this age group who were positive the previous week.

Bryan Collins, principal of Termonfeckin National School in Co Louth, said one of his teachers was out with Covid-19 since last week and there was no contact tracing of children in that class.

“If there is a Covid case among children in the classroom, nothing really happens. That is a little bit of a concern for parents,” he said.

Mr Collins said that parents were concerned that a child could be sitting beside another child for four hours a day at school and not be regarded as a close contact when a parent might not have the same level of contact with their child but would be regarded as a close contact at home.

He said he would have preferred for the change in guidance to come into effect following the midterm break at the end of next month.

“It certainly was unfortunate that we didn’t get a lead-in time to prepare,” he said.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said that the level of transmission in schools was only 5 per cent compared with 25 per cent in households, and that having significant numbers of children out of school was a much higher risk for their wellbeing.