Use ‘common sense’ with respiratory illness advice, urges health department

School principals have called for “immediate” clarity on government advice that staff should stay off work if they have symptoms of respiratory illness.

By Niall Deeney
Wednesday, 6th April 2022, 8:27 am

The Department of Health, meanwhile, has told people to use “common sense”.

The National Association of Head Teachers in Northern Ireland (NAHT NI), a trade union representing the views of school principals, said a “zealous interpretation” of the advice from the Department of Health would have “obvious and serious ramifications for the functioning of our schools”.

The trade union’s president, Liam McGuckin, spoke out after the advice was highlighted by BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Nolan Show’.

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Lateral flow tests will continue to be available for free in Northern Ireland until at least April 22

In a statement to the broadcaster, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “People in Northern Ireland with one of the three original symptoms of Covid (cough, temperature or loss of smell and taste) are still advised to stay at home and book a PCR test. If you have other symptoms of a respiratory virus (such as runny nose, sore throat or headache) you can take a LFD test. Even if you don’t have Covid, your symptoms may be caused by another respiratory virus such as rhinovirus which can be easily passed on to others. It is therefore advisable to stay at home if you can and reduce contact with others when you have respiratory virus symptoms to avoid spreading infection to others.”

Responding, Mr McGuckin said: “Following media coverage on Tuesday morning, our members need the Department of Health in Northern Ireland to immediately confirm whether or not workers with symptoms of a respiratory virus, such as sore throat, runny nose or headache must stay off work.”

He cotinued: “Knowing that children, young people and adults work closely with each other for long periods of time, with limited ventilation and no realistic opportunities for maintaining physical distance, a zealous interpretation of this advice would have obvious and serious ramifications for the functioning of our schools.

“We must remember that many of our schools continue to face extreme pressures in maintaining safe levels of staffing and so, in order to help us keep our schools functioning, we ask the Department of Health to clarify this advice very quickly.”

Responding, a spokesperson for the department said: “In relation to non-Covid respiratory infections, people should use common sense and discretion about going to work as they have always done.”

• Four more patients who had tested positive for coronavirus in Northern Ireland have died, the latest figures from the Department of Health show.

The latest fatalities bring the total number of deaths recorded by the department to 3,346.

Another 1,387 people received positive results on coronavirus tests in the latest 24-hour reporting period, the latest figures also show.

The number of people in hospital with the virus, meanwhile, stood at 530 when the figures were recorded on Tuesday morning – a situation that is virtually identical to the same time last week when 529 was reported.