Editorial: Schools need support as Covid cases surge
Yesterday marked a positive day in this long and wearying pandemic, as more restrictions were eased.
In a boost for the hospitality industry, the legal requirement for Covid certification to enter bars, restaurants and cinemas was scrapped and nightclubs were allowed to reopen.
While other measures remain in place, the mood is definitely much more optimistic after some very difficult weeks following the arrival of the Omicron variant.
However, it would be a mistake to think that because restrictions have been relaxed, we can drop our guard against Covid.
There are encouraging signs in terms of the number of people being hospitalised although it has to be recognised that the health service remains under intense pressure.
And as many parents will know, schools have been particularly badly hit since the start of the new term.
Figures released last week showed there were almost 5,000 cases of Covid-19 among teachers and pupils.
The Department of Health dashboard reported that the highest percentage of individuals testing positive were children aged 5-9, while case numbers among 10-14 year olds were also high.
Given the highly transmissible nature of the Omicron variant, these sort of levels will not come as a great surprise following the return to the classroom.
However, it is important that we keep our schools open and provide as normal a learning experience as possible.
This is undoubtedly a significant challenge for school leaders as they struggle to cope with staff absence and high levels of infection.
They clearly need every support, so it is concerning to hear that principals feel the have been 'left to fend for themselves' after revised guidance was issued by the Education Authority and Public Health Agency (PHA).
The updated guidance says where there are a number of cases in a class, principals should ask all pupils to take a lateral flow test. They are also being told they don't need to discuss with the PHA before making a decision on offering extended testing.
Graham Gault, director of the National Association of Head Teachers NI, said the perception of many school leaders is they have been left to make difficult decisions with potentially serious ramifications 'based on their own best judgment.'
At a time when schools are under immense strain it is vital they receive as much assistance as possible from the education and public health authorities.
The widespread transmission levels should also act as a reminder that the pandemic is far from over.