The Government “will not hesitate” to make the right decision if the reopening of schools causes a significant spike in Covid-19 cases, the Tánaiste has said.

The Government “will not hesitate” to make the right decision if the reopening of schools causes a significant spike in Covid-19 cases, the Tánaiste has said.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Leo Varadkar said the return to school is dependent on downward trends in Covid-19 infections. 
He said there was not a huge increase in cases when schools returned in September, which does give some reassurance.
But, he said, the new B117 variant, first detected in Britain, poses new problems because it transmits differently among children and young adults and the situation will be monitored very closely. 
Schools will today start preparing for the return of 320,000 primary school children and secondary school students next Monday.
Some guidance on arrangements has already been issued to school principals with information on high-risk staff still expected.
The phased return to school is part of the Government’s revised plan for dealing with the virus.
It will see Leaving Certificate students returning to school on 1 March. Primary school children from junior infants to second class will also return then.
Remaining primary school students and fifth year secondary school students will return on 15 March, subject to ongoing reviews.
All other secondary school students will go back to school on 12 April, after the Easter holidays.
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The Government ‘will not hesitate’ to make the right decision if the reopening of schools causes a significant spike in Covid-19 cases, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said. | Read more:
— RTÉ News (@rtenews) February 24, 2021
Mr Varadkar said that because the incubation period of the virus is between five and 14 days there should be a good indication of how things look between day seven and day 16, which is why 15 March has been chosen as the date for the next cohort of children to return to the classroom. 
He said the politician in him and the “numbers guy” in him would like to be able to set exact metrics, but “we saw in December how quickly this can go in the wrong direction”.
Mr Varadkar said decisions will be based on the trends of the virus, rather than exact dates and numbers. 
Ideally, he said, intensive care unit cases would fall to at least half where they are now, but that there are other trends to consider, such as the continued success of the vaccination programme and supplies arriving as expected. 
He said he understands that people are depressed and feeling fatigue, but it will be great to see some sort of normality resume next week. 
Every week seems to be the same now, he said, but there are grounds for optimism. 
Meanwhile, with three working days to go before reopening, primary teachers’ union the INTO said that clear and consistent communication is needed as soon as possible to combat any uncertainty and confusion among teachers, pupils, and parents.
Parents have five days to receive and absorb any information they may need to help them plan for their child’s return and a public awareness campaign for parents agreed as part of the reopening plan has already begun, according to the Department of Education.
Once the school doors open, however, the focus will switch to keeping them open.
The trade unions representing school workers are mostly satisfied with promised risk mitigation measures, such as augmented school Health Service Executive support teams.
They say implementation will be key, most especially robust contact tracing and testing so that the school- related Covid-19 cases that arise are dealt with swiftly. 
The principal of St Aloysius’ College in Carrigtwohill in Co Cork said he is looking forward to welcoming some students back to school next Monday.  
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Sean Twomey said he is a little “cautious” about how things will go.
On calls from some teacher unions for air ventilation monitors, Mr Twomey said it could be very expensive to kit a school out with air ventilation units, so he would bow to the medical expert advice on ventilation and keep the doors and windows open. 
Tonya Hanley, principal of Lourdes National School in Inchicore, Dublin, said there are extra challenges in reopening, but it is exciting and staff are looking forward to seeing the children. 
“We have missed them,” she said. 
Ms Hanley said she is heartened by the supports put in place and it will be important to adhere to practical guidelines around ventilation, especially in large classes. 
She said it is up to each school to seek funding under the minor works grants for air quality monitors or other equipment to aid ventilation.
Additional reporting Emma O Kelly