Schools will reopen next week, says Donnelly, as public urged to reduce social mixing

Minister backs Holohan’s appeal for public to limit socialising around New Year’s celebrations

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said schools will reopen next week despite rising coronavirus infections, while he urged the public to reduce household visits "to the greatest extent possible".

Mr Donnelly agreed with earlier comments from the chief medical officer that schools would reopen as planned, saying they were a controlled environment.

“All of the information that I’ve been given, all of the advice I have, says that whilst of course you can get infection within the schools, they are substantially safer for example than children being outside of schools,” the Minister said.

Hospital Report

He said evidence had shown “consistently that the level of infection within the schools is substantially lower than in the community”.


He said he was not aware of any European country that was considering closing schools at present. The Netherlands closed primary schools early for Christmas and they will reopen on January 10th.

The Minister for Health also told RTÉ’s News at One the chief medical officer was correct about the significant risk posed by people gathering for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

While the official Government advice remained that “a maximum” of three other households should visit, Mr Donnelly said, visitors should be kept to a minimum as the public health advice is to reduce the number of household visitors.

Dr Tony Holohan said on Friday morning that groups from four different households should not gather in one house. Dr Holohan's comments were "correct", said Mr Donnelly, as he agreed that it was not safe for people to visit other households.

While the Cabinet had not met since before Christmas, they were in communication on a daily basis, the Minister for Health said. It was important for the public to be guided by the public health advice which was to reduce mixing “to the greatest extent possible”.

“We have to be pragmatic,” he said, and he urged people to take the public health advice seriously and reduce their contacts.

Testing limits

A record 20,554 new coronavirus cases were reported on Thursday, though Dr Holohan said capacity issues in the testing system meant the actual number might have been in excess of 30,000.

Mr Donnelly acknowledged that the PCR testing capacity was “maxxed out” and said that there had been a change in policy because of the high levels of positivity and PCR tests had to be given to those “who need it the most”.

The Department of Health announced significant changes to an overwhelmed testing system on Thursday night, with an aim to free up about 50 per cent capacity for PCR tests for older people.

People who had a positive antigen test could now register it on the Health Service Executive’s website and upload their close contacts, Mr Donnelly said. In the meantime they should stay home, isolate and continue to take antigen tests while they awaited a PCR test.

If they had a negative antigen test, but had symptoms, they should also stay home, isolate and continue to take antigen tests, but other members of their household could “go about their business”.

In response to concerns raised on Thursday by the Infectious Diseases Society, which said requiring PCR tests to confirm positive antigen tests "duplicates effort for little gain at a significant cost to the public purse", Mr Donnelly said that the situation was being kept under review.

He said antigen tests were very effective, but the public health advice remained that if a person had a positive antigen test they should go for a PCR test.

Mr Donnelly said he understood the public frustration about PCR capacity.