PHA respond to NIPSA concerns: We want to ‘strike balance’ between education and safety

In order to “strike a balance” between safeguarding children’s education and the need to contain Covid-19 in schools the Public Health Agency said a “more targeted approach” to contact tracing will be used.

Monday, 20th September 2021, 7:51 pm
Updated Tuesday, 21st September 2021, 3:38 pm

It comes after NIPSA called for clarity on contact tracing in schools and five further Covid deaths were reported in NI.

Alan Law, assistant secretary of the union which represents almost 8,000 members across the education workforce, said: “NIPSA met with Officials from PHA and DE and reiterated our concern that public confidence in the new arrangements was critical to their success.

“This warning appears to have fallen on deaf ears and we continue to respond to queries across our membership from concerned staff and parents about the safety of schools, the definition of close contacts and worries for the health, safety and well-being for their family members.

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NIPSA has called for clarity on contact tracing in schools

“It’s essential that the education workforce has confidence that the environment they work in is safe and that their concerns are addressed without delay.”

Responding, the PHA said: “As we progress through the pandemic response, we must continue to strike a balance between safeguarding children’s education and wellbeing, and measures to contain COVID-19.

“Having examined the evidence, the Chief Medical Officer is confident that now is the right time to introduce a more targeted approach to the identification of close contacts of COVID-19.”

On September 10, the Public Health Agency’s Contact Tracing Service took over responsibility for contact tracing of positive cases within a school setting.

PHA said: “We now have evidence which shows that the vast majority of those identified as school close contacts and sent home to isolate during the 2020/21 school year did not go on to develop COVID-19.

“Additionally, the vaccination programme has now reached 90% of adults and approaching 88% are fully vaccinated. The vaccine is highly effective at preventing serious illness and hospitalisation.

“At this stage in the pandemic the best place for children is in school. Our schools are safe. Closures and isolation of children have primarily been to help control community transmission to protect the adult population.”

The Department of Education also responded to NIPSA’s concerns explaining that the move to PHA-led contact tracing brought NI into line with England, Scotland and Wales.

The department said: “The aim of this change is to reduce the potential for large numbers of pupils being required to self-isolate and reduce the amount of time spent by schools on contact tracing, while still helping to protect pupils and staff. While there is always a need to balance the risks and the benefits, it is important that children remain in school as much as possible in terms of supporting their education and emotional health and well-being.”

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