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Pupils may not attend school for full day when they return in August – Taoiseach

The Government intends to reopen primary and secondary schools at the end of August, Leo Varadkar said.

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Schools are due to return in August (Jacob King/PA)

Schools are due to return in August (Jacob King/PA)

Schools are due to return in August (Jacob King/PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said while schools will return in August, it does not mean every student will attend for the full day.

Speaking at a post-cabinet briefing on Friday, he said reopening schools will not be a “no-risk” scenario but it should be “low risk” in terms of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“It is the intention of government to reopen our primary and secondary schools at the end of August at the normal time when the academic year begins,” he said

“It may not be possible for every student to return for the full day, every day, but that is the point we are trying to get to. It may be necessary to phase in the reopening of schools but our objective is to open them as fully and as soon as possible provided the virus does not make a comeback.”

He said they will be looking at research from around the world about the effect reopening schools has on the spread of coronavirus.

“We know that it is not a no-risk scenario but is a low-risk scenario to open schools, and we are learning very much from other countries who have reopened schools partially already,” he added.

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The coronavirus death toll in Ireland rose to 1,645 on Friday after a further six deaths were announced.

There were 39 new confirmed cases of the disease, taking the total to 24,876 since the outbreak began.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan later said it would be for the education sector to determine appropriate class sizes when pupils return, suggesting it could be different from school to school.

He said the role of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) was to set out broad public health advice that the education sector then applied to the school setting.

“How that gets applied in the school environment will be different in different schools,” he said.

“There are physical dimensions to it, there are other questions that have to be taken into account by that sector.”

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Leo Varadkar said reopening schools will not be a “no-risk” scenario (Photocall Ireland/PA)

Leo Varadkar said reopening schools will not be a “no-risk” scenario (Photocall Ireland/PA)

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Leo Varadkar said reopening schools will not be a “no-risk” scenario (Photocall Ireland/PA)

Mr Varadkar said in terms of speeding up the reopening of the country, the Government will continue to tread carefully.

“I have to caution that … if we do that, we have to do that based on data and us being sure that it is safe to do so,” he said.

“We only eased restrictions on May 18 and if for some reason that has caused the virus to start spreading rapidly again then we won’t know the effects of that until next week.

“Making any decision today about accelerating the reopening of the country would be premature and risky. It is only something we can consider next Friday when we have data to see if the restrictions eased have caused the virus to propagate again.

“I think the worst thing we can do is to reopen businesses and then two or three weeks later have to close them again.

“I would rather have a slow and steady plan rather than accelerate it unsafely and end up having to lockdown again.

“Nothing would do more damage to economic confidence and national morale if we told people it was safe to reopen then a few weeks later tell them it is not.”

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Dr Tony Holohan said the lockdown exit plan was not a “rigid structure” (Brian Lawless/PA)

Dr Tony Holohan said the lockdown exit plan was not a “rigid structure” (Brian Lawless/PA)

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Dr Tony Holohan said the lockdown exit plan was not a “rigid structure” (Brian Lawless/PA)

Dr Holohan later told the daily NPHET briefing the phased plan was not a “rigid structure” and acknowledged it might be possible to change the timeline on the relaxation of some measures if the scientific and health evidence permitted.

He said none of the main indicators of the disease was currently giving “cause for concern”.

The CMO said he was becoming “more confident” NPHET would be in a position to make a recommendation to Government next week to move to phase two of the plan on schedule, on June 8.

But he stressed it was still too early to give a definitive assessment.

“At this moment in time, there is nothing in the overall progress of the disease that is giving us cause for concern,” he said.

“But it is too early for us to give the conclusion that we will be able to lift restrictions at the end of next week.”

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People on Portmarnock Beach, Dublin, as the warm weather continues (Brian Lawless/PA)

People on Portmarnock Beach, Dublin, as the warm weather continues (Brian Lawless/PA)

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People on Portmarnock Beach, Dublin, as the warm weather continues (Brian Lawless/PA)

On Friday, Mr Varadkar also said the current state deal with private hospitals will not be extended beyond the end of June.

The Government agreed to take over private hospitals in March due to an expected surge in coronavirus cases but Mr Varadkar said it did not happen.

It will instead seek to negotiate a new deal which will allow full access to these hospitals in case a second wave of Covid-19 occurs.

He said: “We very much stand over the decision to take control of private hospitals – it was the right thing to do and we have made some good use of them since then, but certainly nothing approaching the level of use we thought we might have required back in March.”

In another development, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe confirmed workers returning from maternity and paternity leave will be able to avail of the temporary wage subsidy scheme.

Due to an anomaly, women who are returning from unpaid maternity leave and were not on their company’s payroll in January and February are unable to access the subsidy.

Mr Donohoe said the change will be legislated for later in the year but it will now be administered and backdated to March 26 when the scheme was introduced.

“The government is making this important change because we want to ensure that citizens are not denied access to the scheme because of their personal circumstances,” he said.

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