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Covid-19: Alliance MLA calls for greater clarity on schools’ isolation policy

IDBS ART GALLERY

More needs to be done to instil confidence in Covid-19 policies in schools, the chairman of Stormont’s education committee has said.

Since the new term started, some schools in NI have had hundreds of children miss time in class.

Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride said it was time to take a more targeted approach to contact tracing.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) took over responsibility for contact tracing in schools on Friday.

Chris Lyttle, an Alliance MLA, welcomed the PHA move but said school leaders still needed to have confidence in the isolation policy.

He said there was a danger of “ministry by letter”.

“I don’t recall the education minister giving a press conference at any point during the summer,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme.

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

Chris Lyttle says he wants to see ministers and the CMO “clearly communicate the rationale for the new policy”

The Northern Ireland Assembly was recalled on Thursday to discuss the situation in schools.

“We agree that we want to keep our children safe and in school. Let’s set out the plan for how we’re going to do that,” said Mr Lyttle.

Pupils in the same class as a positive Covid case will now not routinely be asked to isolate and book a test.

The move for the PHA to largely take over contact tracing brought Northern Ireland into line with the position being taken in Great Britain.

It was announced by both the health and education ministers in Northern Ireland.

It changed previous guidance for close contacts to isolate for 10 days and aimed to reduce the time children spent out of school.

But some schools said they wanted to retain that advice.

‘Front and centre’

“Previously close contacts would have isolated for 10 days. That has changed now to self-isolation for two days until a PCR test reading negative has returned,” Mr Lyttle said.

“I think our education minister, our health minister and our CMO should be front and centre, fielding press conferences, coming on programmes explaining why that new policy is safe and the rationale to build that confidence in the policy for school leaders and parents and pupils,” he added.

BBC Sunday Politics is available on the iPlayer for the next 30 days.

SourceBBC
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