A slight delay to the reopening of schools "might not be unreasonable" given the current uncertainty around the Omicron COVID-19 wave, an infectious diseases expert says.
Dr Eoghan de Barra believes some schools will likely be forced to pause their reopening anyway "due to staffing issues alone".
With well over 100,000 people currently self-isolating and many more restricting their movements as close contacts, there's concern about how the scale of the current wave will impact many workplaces once they reopen over the coming days.
A series of high-level meetings are planned over the next few days, with the Government believed to be considering reducing the isolation period requirement for some close contacts.
Meanwhile, education officials - including Minister Norma Foley - will meet with public health officials, unions and school management bodies tomorrow to assess the situation ahead of the planned reopening of schools on Thursday.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan yesterday insisted that the current plan is for schools to reopen as planned.
Dr de Barra - Senior Lecturer in the RCSI and Infectious Diseases consultant in Beaumont Hospital - told Late Breakfast it's a "really difficult" situation.
He said children remain a largely unvaccinated sector of society.
He said: "There are teachers there in that classroom [too], facing them all. I feel for them - that’s a difficult situation.
“We’re on the upslope of this wave at the moment. It might not be unreasonable, because there are so many unknowns… if there could be a slight delay. But I absolutely accept that face-to-face teaching and normalisation of all this is what we want.
“When there are so many unknowns and moving parts, it may be more prudent to pause. I suspect some schools will be forced to do that due to staffing issues alone.”
He said there simply isn't enough time to put in place measures - such as extra ventilation or widespread antigen testing - to impact the current wave in schools.
Vaccine registration is also only open for all 5-11 year-olds from today, meaning it will be more than a month before the first cohort of young children is fully vaccinated.
Dr de Barra also noted schools "scrambling around" to deal with absences could also lead to more mixing of pods and classes, further increasing the risk of transmission.
In terms of reducing isolation periods, Dr de Barra suggested there's "no right answer" to the dilemma facing officials at the moment.
He said: “Every time we reduce the isolation period - either for cases or close contacts - we will risk increasing transmission.
“But it’s the trade-off - we’re not going to have bus drivers, guards or nurses unless we make some change to that, accepting some level of risk of transmission.”
He said any such decision will ultimately be one for the officials who have “all the data” available to them.
He noted that Ireland has already made some tweaks to close contact rules for some people, while the US and UK have reduced the isolation period for some people who test positive for COVID.