‘Limited evidence’ air filters stem covid spread in schools, says Michelle McIlveen

There is limited evidence of the effectiveness of air filtration systems stemming the spread of Covid-19 in schools, the Stormont Education Minister has said.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 10th January 2022, 8:02 pm
Updated Tuesday, 11th January 2022, 8:10 am

Michelle McIlveen defended her department’s handling of the pandemic during a recall of the Assembly on Monday.

The plenary came following a recall motion submitted by Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan, which was backed by the SDLP and Alliance Party.

Mr Sheehan accused Ms McIlveen of “dithering”, and described the recall as a “voice for school staff, parents and to students to express their frustrations at the way things have been handled in our schools to date”.

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NI Education minister Michelle McIlveen. Picture date: Tuesday August 10, 2021.

He added: “This is also about accountability and this Assembly holding this minister to account.”

The issues raised by Mr Sheehan were staff shortages due to Covid-19, ventilation systems, contingency plans for exams, and contact tracing.

“I accept there is no silver bullet or panacea but what I will argue is there needs to be a combination of measures – a range of issues that can be introduced in our schools,” he told MLAs.

“Two years into this pandemic, (Ms McIlveen) has no plan, she has made no proposals, she has brought nothing to the Executive, and she has not asked for money for air filtration systems,” he said.

“That’s her responsibility as Education Minister and she has totally failed this basic test.

“Opening windows in classes isn’t going to cut it. While our children are shivering in their classrooms, the minister is dithering in the department. It’s time for action, it’s time for action now.”

However, Ms McIlveen said the motion “represents quick fixes, easy headlines, and the worst form of politics”.

“There is no magic one thing that can be put in place in schools other than a continued focus on all those things that work,” she said.

Addressing the issue of air filtration systems, Ms McIlveen said they are not the “magic solution to ending Covid-19 transmission in schools”.

“At a conservative estimate, it would cost around £40 million to install them across 20,000 classrooms. If the evidence supports such investments I will have no hesitation in bidding for such funds.”