Tuesday, 15 February 2022
Department of Health
809. To ask the Minister for Health his views on the rising numbers of Covid-19 cases in the context of school aged children; if he is considering reinstating contact tracing in schools or PCR tests for school aged children; if there are other measures he is considering to ensure that schools can safely remain open; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8091/22]
The Deputy will be aware of the decision to reopen schools after the Christmas break from January 6th, as planned and the statement issued by the Minister for Education in this regard on 4 January 2022: (gov.ie/en/press-release/f16b6-statement-following-meeting-between-minister-foley-and-education-stakeholders-today-4-january-2022/).
In her statement, the Minister for Education referred to the briefing provided by public health colleagues in the HSE on how the COVID-19 mitigation measures in place in schools have been reviewed by public health and will continue in place in the coming term. The HSE has worked to ensure that the measures in place in schools are robust and prioritise the safety of staff, children and the wider community. Schools are controlled settings and the approach to testing and contact tracing is risk-based in relation to the setting, age-group and the existence of other preventive measures. In addition, these measures recognise the negative impact absences from school have on children’s educational, social and emotional well-being.
The role of testing and contact tracing, as part of the wider public health response, has been under ongoing review throughout the pandemic and will continue to be reviewed and amended in line with the epidemiological profile of the disease, its impact on healthcare utilisation and outcomes, the vaccination status of the population and ECDC guidance. The HSE continues to supply antigen tests, free of charge, to all symptomatic persons aged from 4 to 39, to all close contacts of confirmed cases, and to support the Department of Education in supplying antigen tests to parents and carers of children in primary schools as part of a pod in which there was a confirmed case of COVID-19.
Consideration is also being given to the future role of testing and tracing particularly as the need evolves to move from extensive case finding and tracing of infection aimed at reducing transmission, to one primarily focused on mitigation of the severe impacts of COVID-19, particularly for those most vulnerable to the effects of the disease and for those with risk factors for severe disease who may benefit from specific interventions.
The Minister for Education is responsible for policy in relation to schools and other measures in schools are a matter for her Department.