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Secondary students and teachers advised to wear face coverings

The department also said that schools have been given a Covid-19 payment which will to help with enhanced cleaning regimes.

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A school pupil wearing a face mask on a bus (Owen Humphreys/PA)

A school pupil wearing a face mask on a bus (Owen Humphreys/PA)

A school pupil wearing a face mask on a bus (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Students and teachers in secondary schools have been advised to wear face masks by the Department of Education.

In a statement, the department said that face coverings should be worn when a physical distance of two metres cannot be maintained.

The department also said that schools have been given a Covid-19 payment which will to help with enhanced cleaning regimes.

This is intended to allow for an extra four to six hours cleaning per day in schools.

Meanwhile, the Government is to issue new advice to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in Kildare, Laois and Offaly.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) reviewed the surge in cases in the Midlands and it has advised anyone living in the area to pay particular attention to new symptoms.

The Department of Health daily update on Thursday included notification of five additional deaths and 69 new Covid-19 cases – bringing the total number of deaths in Ireland to 1,768, and the number of confirmed cases to 26,372.

Of the latest cases, 22 are in Offaly, 19 in Kildare, eight in Laois, six in Dublin and 14 are spread across eight other counties.

Paddy Mallon, a professor of Microbial Diseases at UCD, said the country has reached a “critical point”.

“The HSE has put a huge amount of work into creating a testing and contract using system,” he told RTE Radio One.

“What we’re seeing at the minute with the high rates of detection is actually that system working.

“We have colleagues in public health across the country that are working really day and night to try and keep on top of this. These outbreaks can be controlled.

“It’s a really simple message behind hand hygiene and around the wearing masks and the physical distancing, but also if you’re invited to get tested, get tested straight away.

“One of the really noticeable things from the most recent outbreak is the number of people that are coming up positive that don’t have symptoms.

“It may be that people are sitting at home, they’ve been advised that they’ve been a close contact and they say I don’t have symptoms and don’t need to be tested.

“But data shows you do need to be tested, not so much because of the fact that you may not get sick but if you have the virus and you have no symptoms, you’re just as likely to have the same amount of virus, and have it for the same amount of time as someone who does have symptoms.

“So you’re just as infectious.

“The key is picking up people that have little or no symptoms, finding out that they have the virus, and isolating them is the key to really controlling this epidemic and stopping these outbreaks spreading into widespread community transmission which is a big concern.”

Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn urged that those in Kildare, Laois and Offaly should pay particular attention if they have any coronavirus symptoms, and double down on health measures.

He said that there was a large number of cases notified to NPHET in these counties, which will be part of the new case numbers on Friday.

Meanwhile, chairman of the NPHET Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, Professor Philip Nolan, told the briefing that the reproduction number of the virus is now estimated to be 1.8.

PA