More than 46,000 Covid cases in children since start of pandemic, says HSE

Outbreaks in schools usually small scale, says report, and student-to-adult transmission rare

John Boyle, general secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation: Response plan tweaked to include symptoms associated with Delta variant. Photograph: Alan Betson

More than 46,000 children in Ireland contracted Covid-19 between the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and last month, according to a HSE report.

This represented 4 per cent of the total number of children in Ireland aged up to 18, and 17 per cent of the overall number of cases of the disease reported, it says.

The report says that across the full academic year, 18 schools were asked to exclude all staff and students while testing was undertaken and that where outbreaks were recorded, they were “usually of small-scale (2-3 subsequent cases) with usually friendship groups testing positive amongst both pupils and staff”.

“Experiences from the departments of public health were that student-to-adult transmission was unusual,” the report says. “Adult-to-adult, adult-to-child or child-to-child transmission were all more commonly seen than student-to-adult transmission.”


It adds that adult-to-child transmission was more common in settings “where extra assistance was being provided for a child, highlighting the importance of all other mitigation measures when physical distance is not able to be maintained”.

The report says 39 cases were identified amongst Leaving Certificate students, who came through public health teams in schools seeking advice, in the period from finishing school to completing their exams.

“Of these 39, 21 were required to miss some examinations to complete their isolation period. Forty-one close contacts were identified amongst Leaving Certificate students, of whom 14 were precluded from sitting some examinations as their restricted movements period coincided with their examinations,” it says.

High priority

The report recommends that schools should seek to reopen as a high priority and concludes that “data analysis [is] reassuring that case positivity amongst identified contacts is low, despite the high levels of community transmission experienced across Ireland, at various times during the course of the pandemic”.

“The evidence shows that educational facilities can be low-risk settings for Covid-19 with the clear, focused attention to the exclusion of those with symptoms consistent with Covid-19, mitigating measures in place and infection prevention and control measures as laid out in the national recommendations,” it says. “Children should therefore be afforded the opportunity to continue their education as a high priority, with minimum unnecessary interruptions.”

The review says that since the first reopening of schools last August, 832 outbreaks associated staff and children in schools were reported and that some 3,650 cases were linked to these.

More than 90 per cent of outbreaks involved fewer than 10 linked cases, according to data compiled prior to the HSE cyberattack in May.

Uncommon symptoms

Meanwhile, children who have more uncommon symptoms associated with the Delta variant of Covid-19 should not attend school when they resume from this coming week, one of the main primary teachers’ unions has said.

John Boyle, general secretary of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO), said that following representations to the Department of Education the Covid-19 response plan had been tweaked to include uncommon symptoms associated with the Delta variant.

“Children can have sore throats, headaches, runny or stuffy noses. They can be feeling sick or vomiting [or have] diarrhoea. Up until the summer children could go to school with those symptoms,” he said. “You cannot now go if you have any of those uncommon symptoms or the common symptoms [more usually associated with Covid-19].”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

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