Schools and colleges on course to reopen despite rise in Covid-19 cases

‘Concern but not alarm’ as Ireland’s incidence rate set to become one of highest in Europe

Officials are uncertain at this stage whether the rise in Covid-19 cases is the result of the reopening of indoor dining two weeks ago, or due to some other factor. Photograph: credit should read: Damien Eagers/ PA Wire

Officials are uncertain at this stage whether the rise in Covid-19 cases is the result of the reopening of indoor dining two weeks ago, or due to some other factor. Photograph: credit should read: Damien Eagers/ PA Wire

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The reopening of schools and colleges in the autumn is to proceed as planned, despite a fresh increase in Covid-19 cases.

Schools are “on course” to return to normal in-person teaching later this month, a Government source indicated on Sunday, with specific measures put in place to control the spread of infection.

With more than 1,800 new cases recorded on Saturday and Sunday – the highest figures since January – the trajectory of the virus appears to have undergone a further step change.

Officials are uncertain at this stage whether the rise is the result of the reopening of indoor dining two weeks ago, or due to some other factor.

There is “concern but not alarm” about the rise in figures, which will see Ireland with one of the highest incidences of Covid-19 in Europe within days, according to the source. Public health officials had projected a rise in case numbers due to the Delta variant and the easing of lockdown, it was pointed out, with figures now expected to peak towards the end of this month.

Hospitalisations, which have risen above 200, are at the highest level since April, but intensive care numbers remain relatively stable. Eighty per cent of those in ICU are unvaccinated.

More than 23,000 testing swabs were taken over the weekend, the highest figure since January.

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Despite the upward trend, there was “no suggestion” extra measures were needed at this stage, or that the easing of restrictions could be accelerated, the source said.

Officials believe Ireland’s high figures relative to neighbouring countries are the result of wider testing, a rise in travel-related cases and a continuing increase in cases linked to the Delta variant of the virus.

Comprehensive roadmap

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Sunday the Government would be presenting a comprehensive roadmap later this month outlining how it intends to reopen the remainder of society and manage Covid-19 during the winter period.

“Because of the high vaccination rates which will be attained by then, the approach will be different,” he said.

The reopening of schools is a priority, as well as the return of students to further and higher education campuses, he stressed.

However, it appears likely older students will have to wear masks in schools and third-level campuses, as they did in the last academic year.

Mr Martin said personal responsibility would be a key factor “as we move forward”.

“The chief medical officer and deputy CMO have made the point to me consistently that the original guidance on social distancing, wearing of masks indoors and taking precautions will be essential in the weeks and months ahead.”

The Government is confident 90 per cent of adults will be vaccinated by September, a level considered high enough to allow the reopening of the remaining sectors that have remained closed or restricted until now.

With 75 per cent of the population aged 16 and over vaccinated, and registrations opening this week for 12-15 year olds, Government sources said Ireland was ahead of European averages for vaccination.

Some Government backbench TDs have called on the Taoiseach and his Ministers to make early announcements on reopenings, and move immediately to remedy “inconsistencies” in some guidelines.