Irish Teachers’ Union Demands Government Action to Stop Covid in Primary Schools
Ireland’s largest teacher’s union the Irish National Teacher’s Organization (INTO) has urged the Irish Government to do more in order to protect primary school teachers and students from an upsurge in Covid infections.
The INTO conducted a snapshot survey of 3,100 school principals across the country to assess the level of COVID-19 infection they were aware of in their school community. A total of 877 principals responded to the survey. The data submitted related to the period from 1 November 2021 to 16 November 2021.
Of a total of 231,912 pupils in the responding schools, 3,726 pupils were reported as testing positive for Covid-19 (based on the sample of 877 schools that responded).
In the schools responding to the survey, 3.62% of staff (605 of 16,694) were reported as testing positive for Covid-19 during this period.
This snapshot survey sets out only the cases known to principals in a sample of schools across the country.
The organization is highly critical of the Government’s handling of the Covid crisis in primary schools particularly for the removal of testing and contact tracing, the lack of urgency applied to deploying antigen testing, the cessation of public health risk assessments following primary school outbreaks, and the resulting unavailability of weekly reports detailing infection levels from 27 September which the INTO says ‘has concealed the escalation of positive case numbers among pupils and staff in primary schools.’
Responding to the findings of the survey, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said, ‘…It simply cannot be a coincidence that the number of 5–12-year-old children contracting the virus has trebled since crucial public health supports were removed from the primary sector less than two months ago, abandoning teachers and principals to protect themselves and their unmasked, unvaccinated pupils from the impact of the highest wave of infection in their schools since the pandemic began.
The results of the survey indicate that a significant number of school staff (605 staff members in 877 schools that responded to the survey) contracted Covid-19 in recent weeks. This contrasts starkly with the extremely low level of infection among adults in schools that had been reported in official data on schools’ mass testing prior to 27 September and challenges the narrative that Irish primary schools are low risk environments.’
Mr. Boyle went on to say, ‘This union’s view is that the recent statement from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (“sharing a classroom can be considered a high-risk exposure” – 28 October 2021) must be taken seriously by the Irish government if we are to sustain schooling in the coming months. The government must do everything in its power to minimise the risk of exposure in every primary school classroom.’
The Union is calling on the Government to fast-track the booster vaccine programme and the provision of vaccines for children aged under 12. It also wants the Government to ensure that Ireland’s Health Information and Quality Authority publishes another review of the minimum age for the wearing of facemasks, which are currently not required by pupils in Irish primary schools.
Ireland is experiencing on of the highest levels of Covid infection in Europe. The Government advised last week that people should resume working from home where possible and reduced opening times for bars and restaurants. Meanwhile, hospitals across the country are reporting their ICU wards are reaching saturation point.