Northern Ireland news

Fewer, or no, close contacts will be identified in classrooms, schools advised

Teachers have been told to expect fewer, if any, close contact identification that will lead to pupils being forced to miss class.
Paul Ainsworth

The Department of Education has told school principals that pupils will no longer be required to miss class and self-isolate if identified as someone who has come into close contact with Covid-19.

Following the Public Health Agency (PHA) taking over contact tracing in schools last week, removing the responsibility from school leaders, principals and teachers have been advised that "fewer, and in many cases no, close contacts will be identified" going forward.

In a letter from the department to schools, it was described how the previous system of contact tracing mean many pupils were forced to miss class and were "self-isolating unnecessarily". The department revealed this week that more than one-in-10 pupils in the north were not in school during the second week of the new term.

The move by the PHA to take responsibility for contact tracing brings the north into line with Britain.

The letter advised that the move would "reduce the amount of time spent by schools on contact tracing".

Last week, the north's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Michael McBride, wrote to schools to insist pupils were safe to attend.

"The public health grounds for keeping and supporting children at school are extremely strong," he wrote, adding that not attending class was a "certainty of long-term harm to many children and young people".

Professor McBride said in his letter: "The vast majority of those identified as school close contacts and sent home to isolate during the last academic year did not go on to develop Covid."

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