Leo Varadkar is ruling out an extended mid-term break this Christmas to combat the high number of COVID cases in children. However, the Tánaiste is not going to rule out further lockdowns or additional restrictions, “but we do believe that we can avoid it”. The comments have been echoed earlier today, with Taoiseach Micheál Martin declaring a decision will need to be made within the month.
According to Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Ronan Glynn, primary school children are now the most likely to become infected, based on current trends. Although 4,393 children in this age group contracted COVID in the past two weeks, Varadkar has said extending school holidays is not on the agenda for the Government now.
Speaking in Longford on Thursday, Varadkar said, “The fact that there’s a higher incidence among children aged between five and 12 is not a surprise. There’s a lot of the virus about and this is a group that is not vaccinated. But at the same time, we’re seeing a slight fall among people over 80 and that’s a sign the boosters are working.
“As things stand”, the Tánaiste said Government is not “anticipating any school closures or extension of the half-term – we’re not anywhere near that point yet”. As children have “missed enough school as is”, Varadkar claims Government is making the subject “a priority”, with only “serious deterioration” in the viral situation threatens that.
Although Varadkar has said schools would return as planned on Monday, NPHET will still examine the need to resume contact tracing. The Tánaiste went on to add that NPHET’s decision could lead to antigen testing for school children in separate pods.
Speaking later in Mullingar, Varadkar claimed health sector recruitment is like “running up a down escalator”, accepting hospitals are under pressure nationwide. “Nobody can rule [another lockdown] out. As the CMO said the other day, it can’t be taken off the table, but we do believe that we can avoid it.
“Because of the vaccination programme, 2,000 to 3,000 cases a day doesn’t mean what it did last winter. The question is, how does that translate to hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths? While deaths are happening, and every death is a tragedy, they are a fraction of what they would have been previously because of the vaccines.”
According to the Irish Examiner, Varadkar claims Government projections to be 800 patients in hospital, with ICU inpatients rising to 150. The Tánaiste believes that if figures are kept within that bracket, he does not feel “it would be necessary to reimpose restrictions”. However, Government will reassess the situation as “we would start to get worried” if it escalates further than they predict. He believes sticking to the safety guidelines, and advice from health services, would “help turn the tide on this in the next few weeks”.