Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Covid-19: New Measures: Statements
Réada Cronin (Kildare North, Sinn Fein)
When it comes to the new Covid measures, parents in north Kildare and I are still very worried about primary schools. The Minister for Education, Deputy Norma Foley, knows that I have been asking about air quality in classrooms for a long time now. Her most recent reply came back yesterday. I had asked when high-efficiency particulate absorbing, HEPA, filters would be installed in each classroom, given the growing international medical and environmental evidence that is building and the consensus that Covid-19 is airborne. HEPA filtration is an important and effective mitigation measure. The reply came back but, as is customary within the walls of this Chamber, the question remained unanswered. Instead, there was the usual "whatever you're having yourself" about ventilation being part of a suite of measures. What is that suite of measures? Given that there is no contact tracing, isolation, masks or vaccines for that age group, what suite of measures is the Minister for Education talking about?
Covid is airborne. That is a fact, whether this Government wants to accept it or not. Carbon dioxide monitors, pods in the classroom and monitoring do not clean the air. The €57 million that was spent on hand sanitisation does not clean the air and neither does repeatingad nauseamthat schools are safe. No more than the Taoiseach saying there was no bank bailout, I am glad the deputy chief medical officer has come out this afternoon and decided to stop repeating that schools are safe. That does not mean we have forgotten about the Minister for Health and the Minister for Education repeating that schools are safe. We know that nowhere is safe in a global pandemic, certainly nowhere indoors.
We have had 14 cases in Leinster House over the past week. There is all this political nonsense while teachers are out sick, children are being exposed to a novel virus when we know very little about its long-term effects and parents are being left in the dark. It is not too late to do the right thing, which is to prioritise clean air in our classrooms. It is penny wise and pound foolish doing anything other than that. Our children need their schools to be open and they need access to education. Schools need to stay open, but they need to do so safely. HEPA filtration is a no-brainer and I ask the Minister of State to put it in place as quickly as possible.