Reopening schools in coming weeks ‘an ask too far’ for ‘exhausted’ health staff, says NI CMO Dr Michael McBride

The reopening of schools — either partially or fully — would be an ask too far for “exhausted” health workers due to the risk of coronavirus spreading out of control again.

Wednesday, 10th February 2021, 7:01 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th February 2021, 9:30 am

That is the verdict of Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride, who urged “caution” when it comes to calls for schools to be reopened.

His comments are in contrast with the calls from a number of senior figures in the DUP about the importance of reopening schools.

Earlier this week, the Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart said the reopening of schools should be at the top of the priorities list when the Stormont Executive meets next week to re-evaluate the Covid restrictions.

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Remote learning packs at St Ronan's Primary School in Newry, Co Down.
Remote learning packs at St Ronan's Primary School in Newry, Co Down.

Yesterday her party collegue, South Antirm MP Paul Girvan, echoed those comments.

The DUP man said: “With the Executive due to review the current COVID-19 restrictions next week, it is vital that a clear path to the reopening of our schools and return of our children to the classroom is a top priority.”

Dr McBride, however, stressed that while the decision on whether schools should reopen was not his to make he said the situation facing the health service and the emergence of new coronavirus variants meant any decision to restrictions had to be made with the needs of health workers in mind.

“All those decisions are matters for the Education Minister, following discussion at the Executive,” the Chief Medical Officer said.

“I think we just need to be very cautious at this time.”

He continued: “We know, particularly with the prevalence of the new variant which has been dominant in the Republic of Ireland for some time and is increasingly dominant in Northern Ireland, that if we were to relax any of the current restrictions this epidemic would take off again.

“This variant is about 50% more transmissble so things we would have got away with before just become more difficult and more risky.”

Dr McBride said he “fully recognises” the importance “quite correctly” afforded to education “the wellbeing of children”.

But, Dr McBride said “any plans to reopen schools either fully or partially” to be “set against the potential modelling of how the pandemic is going to behave over the next number of weeks.”

He continued: “Our health service has struggled very significantly over the last number of months. To put further pressures on top of a very high baseline I think would be an ask too far.”

The latest figures from the Department of Health show another 10 virus deaths, bringing the total to 1,953 in Northern Ireland since the beginning of the pandemic.

Another 275 cases were reported, bringing the total in the past seven days to 2,658