The Northern Ireland Executive announced this week that there would be no further COVID 19 restrictions. After a meeting with medical and scientific advisors, the Executive said: “The Executive has agreed not to make any changes to the package of measures currently in place to manage this Omicron COVID wave.”

However, it warned that community transmission of the virus was “at an all time high” and urged the public to follow public health advice and “remain vigilant”.

The NI Executive also said: “There are still some uncertainties around the full impact of the Omicron variant and we are keeping the situation under continuous review. Further data on potential hospital pressures will emerge in the next week and will help to inform our considerations.”

The Executive acknowledged the workforce pressures across the country due to the spread of the virus. They said that the situation “is being monitored through the Executive’s civil contingency structure and departments have been asked to proactively monitor workplace absence rates across sectors.”

With pressure on schools continuing, it had been feared that school closures would be announced. An NI teaching union spoke out this week, calling the COVID situation in Northern Ireland schools “dire”. A report in the Belfast Telegraph states that “NASUWT National Official Northern Ireland Justin McCamphill, said almost every school in Northern Ireland has reached the stage where they are having to move pupils to online learning in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.”

MLA Claire Sugden has today called for teaching graduates to be drafted in to ease staffing pressures in Northern Ireland schools. She said: “There are many graduates who are still looking for their first teaching jobs. Employing them in this capacity would enable them to progress their careers and alleviate pressures on schools.

“Keeping schools open is vital for our children’s wellbeing. It is also vital for working parents to keep going to work – keeping our services running and economy afloat.”

Koulla Yiasouma, NI Commissioner for Children and Young People also voiced concern, saying that both school leaders and young people were worried about how schools would cope without more support.

She said: “Schools cannot stay open if there are unsafe staffing levels or if there is an increased risk of COVID infection. All necessary measures must be taken to address both challenges.

“I have reviewed the calls from school leaders and Trade Unions and believe they are reasonable.  I therefore repeat my call that the Department of Education and NI Executive make speedy decisions on the allocation of necessary resources to ensure that schools have adequate air filtration systems, lateral flow testing for pupils and that there are creative decisions with regards to the deployment of suitably qualified staff to educate our children.”


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