Health officials are considering whether the testing of symptomless close contacts should be reintroduced in primary schools, Leo Varadkar has said.
Speaking in Monaghan on Friday, the Tánaiste told reporters he is aware of a growing rate of infection among children aged five to 12, and it is being monitored by the Government.
He said the National Public Health Emergency Team is actively considering whether testing should resume for primary school children in some form.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation has already called for the reintroduction of testing and contact tracing in primary school classrooms.
Health officials have repeatedly said schools remain safe for pupils and many infections are occurring outside the gates.
Mr Varadkar said it is not necessarily a “surprise” to see infections among young children, given that they remain one of the last segments of the population who are unvaccinated.
He added: “It is not possible to be vaccinated when you’re under 12 at the moment. Although hopefully that will change and there are indications that will change in the next couple of months.
“There has been an increase in incidence and that’s not something we’re complacent about at all.
“So one of the matters that Nphet is reviewing now at the moment is whether we should resume testing of primary school children.
“At the moment, if you’re an adult, and you’re a close contact of somebody who gets Covid, if you have symptoms, get a PCR test.
“If you don’t have symptoms, you’re now going to get an antigen test.
“At the moment, that doesn’t apply to primary school children, but it might make sense to do that and that’s something Nphet is reviewing at the moment.
“If there is a change it’ll be more likely a move to testing rather than contact tracing.”
Mr Varadkar stressed the Government does not want to see thousands of children excluded from school for being designated as close contacts.
Asked about a potential return of restrictions more widely given the rising number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations in Ireland, Mr Varadkar said: “My expectation is that we won’t have to go backwards in terms of restrictions.”
On Thursday, 2,605 new cases of Covid were confirmed.
“The restrictions that we have in place at the moment will more or less remain as they are until we get through the winter,” Mr Varadkar said.
“I’ve always felt we had to get through another winter before we can say the pandemic was safely behind us. But we will keep reviewing them as time goes on.”