It is “very unlikely” that schools will reopen as planned in February, according to public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally.
Health officials announced 3,569 more cases of the virus last night, alongside 63 further deaths, most of which occurred in January.
There were 1, 750 COVID-19 patients in Irish hospitals last night, with 176 people in intensive care with the virus.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Dr Scally said both Ireland and Britain are now “in a mess.”
“It is not a pretty picture and in fact, it is a very, very dangerous picture,” he said.
“It was avoidable and I think that is the only conclusion you can come to. It was avoidable, we should have avoided it but we are here and it is going to be really tough to get through it – but get through it we will, I am sure.”
He said it is hard to see schools reopening while daily case figures are so high.
“I would have thought it is very unlikely,” he said.
“Children are not at great risk but there is no doubt about it that there is the whole process of getting children to school, all of the teachers and staff that are there and there is transmission between children and transmission back into families again so, given the terrible situation we are in, I don’t think schools should be open.”
He said now is a good time for schools to do the work needed to prepare for safe reopening.
“Try and make them safer by taking over more space,” he said. “Other buildings, community halls, sports halls, whatever, so that in future months, the classes can be more spread.
“They should be doing something really serious about ventilation. Opening windows that maybe don’t open. Putting in new windows that can open all of that kind of stuff. It is a good opportunity now to get the schools safer.”
Dr Scally was speaking amid calls for Ireland to purchase vaccines direct from manufacturers to boost the country’s “unambitious” vaccine plan.
Meanwhile, the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said more than four million people could be vaccinated by October.
He said 700,000 of the highest-risk people will be inoculated by the end of March.
Dr Scally said there is a “huge danger” in reducing restrictions before enough people are vaccinated.
“It is called the prevention paradox in public health terms,” he said. “If you protect the highest at risk but let the virus run wild then after that by removing restrictions to any great extent, there are a lot of people in our communities who are not at very, very high risk but may be at moderate risk or low risk.
“There are a lot of those people so, if the virus then takes off in the community because we have reduced the restrictions, you could still get a lot of people coming with symptoms and really serious disease.
“Then there is long COVID to think about. There is the one-in-ten, approximately, people who get symptoms of COVID, don’t have to be seriously ill but can have a long-term disability arising from the virus.
“We don’t want either deaths or disability coming out of this so we have to treat it very, very cautiously until we have a really high level of vaccination.”
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