The government expects most mask-wearers, including in schools, will become voluntary after the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) met on Thursday to review Ireland’s Covid-19 situation. 19.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced the move last night when he informed the parliamentary party Fianna Fáil of a meeting with Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan. Mr Martin reportedly delivered an optimistic assessment of the current Covid-19 situation.
He said the focus should continue on vaccination as nearly 800,000 people who have recently contracted the disease are expected to become eligible for booster shots next month.
Dr Holohan is expected to write to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly with his assessment following Nphet’s first meeting since January.
Nphet is expected to say that the progress of Covid-19 since then has been in line with projections and the damage caused by the disease has further declined. While the number of daily infections remains high compared to previous waves, authorities will likely note the drop in the number of people requiring hospital and intensive care care.
Another 108 Covid-19 related deaths were reported last week, bringing the total to 6,399 since the start of the pandemic. A further 5,268 PCR-confirmed cases were reported yesterday, with 4,613 positive antigen tests recorded on the HSE’s online portal.
Some 631 patients were hospitalized for Covid-19 on Wednesday, a drop of four in 24 hours, including 62 people in intensive care, a drop of one.
|Confirmed cases in hospital||Confirmed cases in intensive care|
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Although the remaining restrictions are not due to expire before the end of this month, the government is optimistic that Nphet may recommend an end to mandatory mask-wearing in most settings, although it may still be required in health facilities and public transport.
Senior government sources said they expected the requirement to wear masks in schools could be lifted from next week, but would await advice from Nphet.
The government is likely to recommend that people continue to wear masks in situations where they perceive a risk of Covid-19 infection. Mr Martin said he would support a move to a voluntary scheme as the pandemic recedes. However, there is concern about the relatively low vaccination rate among children aged 5-11 years, which is 28%.
Teachers‘ unions and school principals say they prefer a gradual relaxation of Covid-19 rules.
Education Minister Norma Foley said yesterday that public health advice has served schools well during the pandemic and that any recommended changes will be implemented across the education system. She said she anticipated guidance around hand hygiene, the need for symptomatic staff or students to stay home and enhanced cleaning would likely remain.
Staff representatives say the volume of Covid-19 in schools remains a challenge and is driving high levels of student and teacher absenteeism.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organization (INTO) has called for a “pragmatic and cautious” approach to any changes to school mitigation measures. .
“If we stop suddenly, there is a risk that many students and teachers will miss the call,” said TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie.
The two main groups of principals’ representatives said they would be guided by any announced public health measures. Some principals said they looked forward to a full resumption of school activities such as concerts, plays, choirs and in-person parent-teacher meetings.
Meanwhile, all children aged 5 to 11 in Northern Ireland should be offered Covid-19 vaccines on the advice of the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization. They will be offered two pediatric doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with an interval of at least 12 weeks between them.
Five other deaths of people who previously tested positive for Covid-19 were reported in the North on Wednesday, along with 2,889 other cases. There were 474 Covid-19 patients in hospitals, including 12 in intensive care.