Should schools re-open. Photo: Kelly Sikkema

Should the schools all re-open?

Well, the schools are to re-open on Thursday, despite recent record daily Covid-19 cases and no new measures to make schools safer.

It was decided pretty quickly on Tuesday, which at least gave parents and teachers some certainty, although it’s very last minute once more.

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD on Tuesday said: “I cannot understand the lack of urgency from the Government. Yet again Government has left it until the 11th hour. This is putting immense pressure on countless schools, and causing huge stress for parents, school staff, and children.”

Whether it’s the right decision, we will probably never know. We know that the Omicron variant is far more transmissible so environments that were safe or just about safe previously are unlikely to be as safe this time.

The country is rife with Covid-19, with PCR tests proving very difficult to get for the past few weeks.

The record daily case numbers, 21,302 on Tuesday, have not yet lead to a huge rise in ICU admissions thankfully but hospital numbers are rising significantly and there are major staff shortages due to the number of people out with Covid-19.

The hospital system remains under enormous pressure with both the CUH and Mercy Hospital this week asking people not to attend their emergency departments if their needs were not “urgent”.

On Tuesday management at CUH warned people may experience delays at the ED which has been “exceptionally busy over the past number of weeks”.

To me, a non-expert of course, it seems a bit foolish to open all schools on Thursday. There will be a direct consequence of this: many teachers and kids will get Covid-19 after being in confined, poorly ventilated, overcrowded Irish classrooms during winter. That has to be the case due to the nature of the variant.

On Tuesday the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “We saw a significant reduction in incidence of Covid-19 in primary school-going children through December.

“However, given the very high and rising incidence of Covid-19 across all age groups in the community, it is inevitable that children will pick up this infection from household contacts in the days and weeks ahead.

“We also know, as a result, that there will be cases and outbreaks in schools and childcare settings.”

He may have more information and expertise but it sounds like he is saying that since kids will possibly get Covid outside of school, we may as well send them back to school.

The Department of Education said on Tuesday that public health officials advised that there is “no public health rationale to delay the reopening of schools later this week”. That seems very flawed to me given all the other public health advice to avoid gathering with other households indoors.

The meeting to decide whether or not schools were safe enough for teachers and pupils to return to them was held online for Covid-19-related safety reasons.

Send the kids back to school though!