School principals have revealed record low student attendances and severe staff shortages as the country reported its highest ever Covid-19 case numbers.
As the Irish Examiner reports, schools reopened yesterday after the Christmas break, with many principals reporting that 30 per cent to 40 per cent of children did not turn up for class.
The absences are linked to the recording-breaking Omicron wave of the virus, with 23,817 cases confirmed by the Department of Health yesterday — the worst daily figure since the pandemic began.
There are now 941 Covid patients in hospital, an increase of 13, and 90 in intensive care, down four
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) met last night to discuss the ongoing situation, recommending a continuation of the current regime until the end of January.
Any changes to rules around isolation for close contacts, which had been sought by the Government, will not be made until Nphet is satisfied the peak of the Omicron wave has passed, which could happen as early as next week.
The letter from Nphet to Government confirmed that case numbers are still a concern, but ICU capacity and deaths are relatively stable so far.
The reopening of schools immediately led to renewed calls for greater supports for the education sector, with thousands of staff and students absent yesterday.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) said it was an “incredibly difficult first day back”, as pupils and staff members restrict movement due to contracting the virus or being close contacts.
“In order to maximise our chances of providing in-person teaching and learning throughout this term, we again call on the Government to reinstate contact tracing in schools,” said INTO general secretary John Boyle.
The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland estimated that 15 per cent to 30 per cent of staff were absent while the Irish Primary Principals' Network reported that schools were down 20 per cent to 25 per cent of staff.
Catríona Hand, principal of Citywest Educate Together National School in Dublin, was down 27 per cent of her staff and had to close three classes.
“It is the first time in over a year that we've had to close a class due to Covid-19, and we hated doing it.
"Unfortunately, it seems that in the coming weeks it will be a case of classes taking their turns being closed, and that's not something that we've ever done, or that we would do lightly,” she said.
Ms Hand said pupil attendance was the lowest in the school’s 20-year history, at 69.5 per cent.