Covid-19 outbreaks in schools ‘inevitable’, Varadkar says

Outbreaks of Covid-19 within schools will be “inevitable” once they reopen at the end of the month, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.

The Government announced plans designed to reopen schools safely at the end of July, including enhanced cleaning regimes, investment in personal protective equipment and the hiring of more substitute teachers.

However, speaking on RTÉ One’s Open for Business series, Mr Varadkar said coronavirus outbreaks will still be guaranteed: “I can guarantee you that in a few weeks’ time, we’re going to see clusters occur in schools.

It’s almost inevitable that if schools open that there will be clusters in some schools. Does that mean that that school did something wrong or the principal was somehow negligent? Probably not.

“It’s almost inevitable that if schools open that there will be clusters in some schools. Does that mean that that school did something wrong or the principal was somehow negligent? Probably not.”

The Tánaiste said people would need to accept the idea that outbreaks could not be completely prevented: “I just think we need to maybe raise the understanding among people that this is a highly infectious virus and everyone doing the right thing still means that some people may get the virus.”

Mr Varadkar said that school closures would nonetheless be “further down the list of things that might have to be done to suppress the virus” if a surge was seen during the winter months.

“We’re learned a lot about this virus that we didn’t know for example back in March, and we do know that schools, for example, are a lower risk environment than may have been thought at the time,” he said.

His comments came as a former president of the Teachers Union of Ireland said it needed to be made clear how schools will deal with cases of Covid-19.

We’re closing down entire counties because of an outbreak in one specific industry. So, from that point of view, what happens if a child on a school bus... presents with Covid-19?

Senator Gerard Craughwell said there was no clear plan in place if a child were to test positive for Covid-19: “Is the entire class sent home to self-isolate, it appears not, yet if I present at a meat factory with Covid-19, we’re now asking for the factory to be closed.

“We’re closing down entire counties because of an outbreak in one specific industry. So, from that point of view, what happens if a child on a school bus... presents with Covid-19?”

The Senator said he had been contacted by concerned parents and teachers over the issue: “Today we have the experts disagreeing on whether schools should reopen or whether they should not, and the bottom line of it is, as a concerned grandparent, as a concerned former teacher, I do not believe that we’re ready.”