A number of mitigations are specified in the Department's guidance to schools. There is also a range of mitigations that will be put in place at school level to reflect the individual circumstances of each school. The DE guidance allows school leaders to be flexible in how they manage COVID-19 risks in their schools and builds on the learning that they have gained over the course of the pandemic on what works well and what works less well in schools. Schools are encouraged to take a cautious, risk-based approach to their operation.
The Executive decided in August that post-primary children should continue to wear face coverings in post-primary classrooms on the basis of public health advice. That continued to apply until last week, when the Minister announced that it would no longer apply. There continue to be asymptomatic testing programmes for post-primary pupils, special school pupils and all school staff, and the Public Health Agency (PHA) vaccination programme has been rolled out to those aged 12 and over. Schools are advised to maximise ventilation where possible, and the EA is supporting schools that identify issues with that, including the provision of CO2 monitors. Schools are encouraged to maintain pupils in consistent groups, where possible, and promote good hand and respiratory hygiene practices. They are also encouraged to facilitate social distancing where that is possible.
We do not have the current figures, but we know that COVID-19 is still prevalent and that there is a lot of it around. However, the strains have become diluted and therefore the impact of it, in terms of the number of people who have to go into hospital because of it and be treated in an intensive care unit, has reduced considerably. Therefore, the decisions made by the Department of Education and all other Departments will reflect that.