Call for action to improve ventilation in schools to cut Covid risk

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By Rebecca Black, PA

The chairman of Stormont’s Education Committee has called for a review of ventilation in schools amid high community Covid-19 infection rates.

Chris Lyttle (Alliance) also revealed that his committee and the health committee have invited Education Minister Michelle McIlveen, Health Minister Robin Swann and chief medical officer Sir Michael McBride to face questions on arrangements in schools.

New guidance was issued to schools on public measures last month to allow principals more flexibility in their approach.

Since the new school term started earlier this month, hundreds of pupils have already had to take time off to self-isolate following contact with a positive Covid-19 case.

Last Friday the Public Health Agency took over responsibility for contact tracing in schools.

Mr Lyttle said “urgent action” is needed on improving ventilation in schools as a measure against infection.

He referred to a fund in Wales allocated for Co2 monitoring and air filtration in schools.

“But we also need much more clearly communicated and effective pupil test, trace and isolation in our schools, that means that tracing needs to be proportionate, it means that tests need to be available,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme.

Mr Lyttle also contended that communication around the system in recent weeks was “not adequate”.

“I think our education minister, our health minister, our chief medical officer should be front and centre fielding press conferences, coming on programmes to explain why that new policy is safe and the rationale for it to build that confidence in the policy,” he said.

“I think we’re in danger of ministry by letter. We remain in a public health pandemic; I don’t recall the education minister giving a press conference at any point during the summer.

“I have proposed a joint committee meeting of the education and health committees at which the education minister, the health minister and the chief medical officer would have an opportunity to come on the public record and clearly communicate the rationale for the new policy in order to make it understood and increase confidence in it.”

On Sunday, a further six deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland were notified by the Department of Health on Sunday, as well as another 1,031 positive cases of the virus.

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