Video: Schools reopening, isolation rule changes, Covid staff shortages

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School reopening

Public health officials will review the possible reintroduction of coronavirus contact tracing in primary schools, the Minister for Education has said.

Norma Foley's comments came as the general secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said he was “beseeching” the Government to reintroduce contact tracing amid record-breaking infection rates.

“I am beseeching the Government,” John Boyle told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland. “It worked well while we had it. That’s my big ask. That’s what we need if we want gold standard teaching.”

Mr Boyle also said up to 8,000 teachers are expected to be absent when schools reopen on Thursday and he was “deeply concerned about finding enough teachers to keep the system running.”

“There isn’t a hope we will have enough replacement teachers and that is me being honest and frank with you,” he said.

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Meanwhile, children with a health condition putting them at high risk from Covid-19 face a return to school later this week without the protection of a vaccine, with infection levels at unprecedented heights around the country.

A number of parents fear their vulnerable children have become “lost in a sea of other children” registered on the HSE’s online portal, having received no date for a vaccination appointment despite registering more than a week ago when they became eligible on December 28th.

The HSE has since opened registration to all children aged 5-11, with approximately 50,300 children in this cohort registered for a vaccine as of Tuesday morning, and said it expects to begin vaccination of those outside of priority groups later this week.

However, Dublin mother Catherine Rossiter said her eight-year-old daughter Aoife, who falls into the HSE’s high-risk priority group for Covid vaccination as she has cerebral palsy, has yet to receive a vaccination appointment.

Close contact rules

Rules for close contacts of confirmed cases of Covid-19 will be re-examined by public health officials due to the impact they are having across multiple sectors.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar confirmed officials will be asked to assess what changes could be made, warning that public health measures must avoid "doing more harm than good" as the Department of Health confirmed 21,302 new cases of the virus on Tuesday.

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At 8am on Tuesday, there were 884 people with the virus in hospital, an increase of 80 in the past 24 hours. However, the number of Covid patients in ICU decreased by three in the same period, to 90.

Depending on a person's vaccination status, when identified as a close contact, they must isolate for between five and 10 days. The measures are causing widespread staff shortages, including among healthcare workers and Gardaí.

Covid staff shortages

Hospitals, schools and child protection services are being hit by major staff shortages as coronavirus infections driven by the Omicron variant impact across society.

Some schools are preparing to reopen with just 50 per cent of their staff, while more than 1,000 workers are on Covid-related leave in a western hospital group and close to 10 per cent of Tusla staff are absent.

The president of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) expressed concern that a number of schools will reopen with just half of their teachers on Thursday, with 40 per cent of schools reporting insufficient staff to reopen all classes.

Brian O’Doherty told RTÉ radio’s Today show that the IPPN conducted a survey of members to which 1,500 schools responded, about half the primary schools in the country.

This found that half of the schools that responded were facing staff shortages of 20 per cent, with eight per cent of schools facing more than a 50 per cent shortage due to Covid.

Plan to waive negative Covid test for vaccinated travellers into Ireland

Vaccinated people travelling into Ireland will no longer need to produce a negative test for Covid-19, under plans before the Cabinet today.

All arrivals into the State have needed a negative PCR or antigen test, depending on their vaccination status, since early December when the threat of the Omicron variant emerged.

However, the requirement will be removed and from tomorrow, The Irish Times reports that the situation that applied before December 6th returns.

This means that vaccinated people with a valid Digital Covid Certificate or another valid proof of Covid vaccination or recovery from the virus will not need a test.

Man arrested following €70,000 drug seizure in Co Louth

One man has been arrested following the seizure of €70,000 worth of drugs in Co Louth on Tuesday.

As part of Operation Tara, gardaí stopped and searched a vehicle on the Carrickmacross Road in Dundalk at approximately 11am.

During the course of the search €45,000 in cash was discovered in the vehicle.

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