Teachers will receive medical grade masks

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Teachers should be given medical-grade masks as an additional safety measure in the face of increasing Covid-19 cases, unions say.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organization (INTO) said the government had “finally” accepted the measure in talks on Tuesday and called on the Education Department to ensure adequate supplies in this regard are made available. provision of schools.

The Association of Secondary School Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) said medical grade masks are “essential”. However, he said they would not be available in time for the school’s reopening this week and that many classrooms still “urgently need” Hepa air filters to improve air quality. .

INTO also said it has been informed that more teacher-trainees will be made available to undertake paid replacement work over the next two months at least.

He said such arrangements have proven to be crucial in recent weeks in allowing more schools to remain open when it might not have been possible otherwise. Schools are facing staff shortages due to the increase in Covid cases.

The latest measures were announced following meetings with Education Minister Norma Foley, public health officials, teachers’ unions and school principals on Tuesday afternoon over the reopening of schools after the Christmas holidays.

Primary and secondary schools are expected to reopen on Thursday, January 6, after authorities said there was “no public health justification” to keep them closed beyond this week.

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In a statement, the ministry said following a review of risk mitigation measures in schools, public health officials said current security measures were “effective and appropriate.”

Potential closures

Teachers’ unions have said they will follow public health advice, but have warned of possible school closures due to staff shortages linked to the spread of the new, more transmissible Omicron variant.

The Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) has said it will continue to push for schools to have flexibility on how they reopen based on their particular circumstances.

“The TUI has also made it clear that given the significant concerns about the Omicron variant, the functioning of schools must be constantly monitored,” a union spokesperson said.

INTO said it had been informed that school inspectors would be made available to help schools that cannot access alternative coverage make decisions about how best to prioritize children with needs. additional, while other classes “may have to revert to distance learning from time to time. to time.”

Sources at the talks on Tuesday said public health advice was that there was no benefit in closing schools given the level of virus circulating in the wider community.

“The virus is everywhere. Households are the main drivers of infection, so it is not advisable to close schools, especially given the impact it would have on the most vulnerable children, ”said a source.

“The advice remains that schools are not important drivers of transmission. They have played a very important role in terms of prevention and control measures.

Response plans

In a statement, the Education Department said schools will operate in accordance with their Covid-19 response plans, which set out a series of mitigation measures for schools.

“They include hand hygiene, mask wearing and social distancing. Schools have also received advice on maintaining good ventilation, ”according to the department’s statement on Tuesday.

He said guidelines for parents and students to ensure symptomatic students and close household contacts should not attend school are being published through a communications campaign as well as directly through schools.

“As a result of today’s meetings, further clarification and information will be communicated to public health and department schools tomorrow before the schools reopen,” the department added.

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