Covid-19 infections among unvaccinated school-going children will increase with the return of schools in the coming weeks if urgent action is not taken, according to the Independent Scientific Advisory Group (ISAG).
Launching their Back to School 2021 discussion paper on Wednesday, the group said the return of students to classrooms and the associated infections will lead to a "significant proportion" of students suffering the harm of Long Covid, while some children will also end up in hospital due to the virus.
"A political decision must be made not to allow the mass infection of children in Ireland," ISAG said, calling for a number of additional protective measures to be established in schools in addition to existing measures which were put in place during the previous academic year.
Among the measures suggested by the group was a requirement for teachers and students, including young primary school children, to wear high-quality face masks, the monitoring of air-quality levels using ventilation and HEPA filtration, and the installation of CO2 monitors in each classroom.
Read the full @ISAGCOVID19 discussion document on the return to schools here:https://t.co/mBt9E1tvtS
— Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG) (@ISAGCOVID19) August 18, 2021
In order to facilitate social distancing, more space should be made available to schools, ISAG said, and regular saliva-based PCR testing should be considered.
They added Covid cases detected should be reported "transparently and rapidly", and schools should prepare for the vaccination of children under 12 "as, if, and when this is approved".
Commenting on a statement released by Minister for Education Norma Foley in July which said: "It is not envisaged that there will be any updates that require schools to take action in advance of normal reopening", ISAG said the approach "does not suggest any desire to improve mitigation in schools, despite abundant evidence of spread in schools".
In the discussion paper, the group highlighted six policy choices which they believe should be avoided, including a personal responsibility approach which they said "puts children, who cannot and should not carry these obligations to society, at risk".
Labelling lockdowns and school closures "a measure of last resort", ISAG added policy-makers cannot accept high community transmission rates and must acknowledge vaccination alone will not end the pandemic.