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Fears for schools' reopening as rate of infection rising

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Shoppers wearing masks on Dublin’s Grafton Street

Shoppers wearing masks on Dublin’s Grafton Street

Shoppers wearing masks on Dublin’s Grafton Street

The country's worsening rate of Covid-19 is "deeply concerning", Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said, promising deep analysis of what might be done in response.

A Cabinet committee due to meet tomorrow could take further measures in response to the increased infection rate, although there are no indications yet what the measures could be.

The latest figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) showed there were 66 confirmed cases yesterday, with no new deaths reported. Of the new cases, 21 were in Kildare, 16 were in Dublin and six were in Limerick.

Mr Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly met with acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn yesterday.

They discussed the "evolving" situation and examined the recent spike in cases, a Government statement said.

Flippant

"They expressed deep concern at yesterday's figures," the statement added.

"There will be a further analysis of the situation ahead of the Cabinet Committee on Covid, which will meet again on Tuesday."

The meeting came after Ireland's rate of infection per 100,000 rose to 22.1, with 200 new cases reported on Saturday.

The infection rate surpasses that of the UK, where it is 18.6 per 100,000.

Labour Party spokesman on Education Aodhán Ó Riordáin yesterday criticised the Tánaiste for his "flippant" remarks that Covid clusters in schools are inevitable.

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Taoiseach Micheál Martin

"That leads to an awful lot of uncertainty and worry among school communities. I think schools have to reopen and we've been saying this for a number of weeks now," he said.

But he added: "Nothing can reopen, families can't function, if schools aren't back.

"Of course they have to get back safely, and now one of the issues is that we need rapid testing for teachers."

He said Education Minister Norma Foley should appear in front of the Covid committee this week "to talk through what scenarios and what sort of strategies will be in place by the Department".

"We don't want to unnecessarily frighten or scare children, young people, or their parents," Mr Ó Riordáin said.

"But it doesn't help when statements are made about school transport, about face coverings, about reopenings, and there isn't a minister available either last week or this week to give that certainty to parents and students."

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane agreed.

"The priority has to be to get the schools reopened. I have three young boys myself. We want to see them back to school and parents want to see their children back to school," he said.

"The children of the nation need to be back in school. So we have to do everything that we possibly can.

"We know that with the numbers that have come out, and they're usually about 10 to 14 days behind reality, so that you're actually looking at a picture from the past," he said.

Strategy

"In about two weeks' time, schools are set to reopen. I think everybody will be concerned, and the acting chief medical officer has expressed a deep concern.

"I think what we have to do first and foremost is have a plan and a strategy in place to wrestle back control of this virus and to get it under control.

"Unfortunately the numbers are going up, the number of cases are going up, the 14-day average per 100,000 is going up, the reproduction rate is going up, and the number of cases in the community is going up."

Mr Cullinane said there was also a responsibility on individuals.

"Sometimes there are lapses, as we have seen with this social media clip of a Dublin restaurant, but it is also the responsibility of the Government to step up to the plate and make sure that we have the highest levels of prevention and enforcement measures in place."