Upwards of 10,000 children are out of primary school for Covid-19 reasons, latest figures indicate.
Data compiled by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre for the latest 14-day period show there have been 8,600 positive Covid-19 cases among children aged five to 12.
Thousands of siblings are also likely to be out of school as well under close contact rules which require household contacts to restrict their movements.
Joe McKeown, Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) president, said many primary schools are reporting that up to 15 per cent of pupils are out of class.
“It is difficult to say how many children are absent from school due to Covid-19 but there is every likelihood that a significant portion of the 8,600 Covid-19 positive children has siblings who are also restricting their movements,” he said.
“Even more worryingly, if the Taoiseach is correct and there are six unknown cases for every four known cases, there are almost 13,000 asymptomatic pupils with Covid attending school today.”
He called for a return to full contact tracing in schools to help keep cases out of classrooms.
“Every day that we delay the return of full contact tracing and the introduction of antigen testing, hundreds more pupils with Covid-19 attend school. We really need reliable data about the numbers of pupils absent and the reasons for the absences,” he said.
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Latest figures show the incidence of Covid-19 infection among children aged five to 12 years climbed to 767 per 100,000 last week (November 7th to 13th).
This is up from 618 per 100,000 the previous week and 432 per 100,000 the week before.
There is no regularly updated centralised database on the number of primary pupils absent from school.
The Department of Education does, however, have data on the number of teachers out on sick leave.
It shows that 12,000 teachers were out over the course of last month, up about 40 per cent on pre-Covid times.
Substitute teacher shortage
Many schools say they are struggling to keep classes open due a crisis in substitution cover linked to high rates of sick leave or teachers being forced to self-isolate due to the virus.
School managers say shortages are growing even more acute in recent days following a tightening of the definition of what constitutes a close contact.
Some larger schools say they are down by between 15 or 20 staff members, while principals say they are “plugging gaps” by using special education teachers and student teachers and have come close to sending year groups home.
Pairic Clerkin of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network said principals were “deeply concerned” over the circumstances unfolding in schools.
While he welcomed the planned introduction of antigen testing at primary level from the November 29th, he said the burden of responsibility for informing schools will rest with parents.