Northern Ireland news


Education minister calls for scrapping of school Covid rules

Post-primary pupils and teachers have been required to wear face coverings since last August

MINISTERS will today debate scrapping face masks and bubbles in schools despite high levels of Covid-19 and vaccine hesitancy among younger people.

A final decision to drop the restrictions was delayed last month, with the executive due to discuss the measures again today.

Ahead of the meeting, Education Minister Michelle McIlveen said she believed face coverings and bubbles should be removed.

In a letter to principals, seen by The Irish News, she said she would "continue to encourage executive colleagues to ratify this decision".

She also said she believed the "worst of the pandemic is now behind us".

Post-primary pupils and teachers have been required to wear face coverings since last August and class bubbles were in put in place in schools.

But any decision by the executive comes amid an increasing number of young people being admitted to hospital with coronavirus in recent weeks, with many requiring a high level of acute care.

The vaccine uptake rate among young people has also caused concern among senior health officials, with many still not coming forward to get jabbed.

Just this week, chief scientific advisor Professor Ian Young, emphasised that younger people who choose not to get a vaccine are at "serious risk" of requiring treatment.

It also comes days after the vaccine roll-out in the Republic was extended to children aged 12 to 15.

Ahead of the start of the school year, principals have called for clarity surrounding the guidance for face coverings and bubbles.

In her letter, Ms McIlveen said her officials had been revising the department's guidance.

"You may be aware of the executive’s decision in principle on 8 July that there would no longer be a requirement in guidance for bubbles and face coverings in classrooms, subject to ratification," she wrote.

"The decision to ratify this has been deferred until the executive meeting on 12 August.

"While I will continue to encourage executive colleagues to ratify this decision, it is ultimately a decision that is to be taken by the executive, guided by the Department of Health, taking account of the relevant medical and scientific advice."

Ministers will also debate the self-isolation rules for young people, which has led to many pupils facing significant disruption to their education.

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