Education settings will no longer be asked to carry out contact tracing of pupils following an agreement between the departments of Education and Health.
Starting tomorrow, contact tracing in schools will be taken forward primarily by the Public Health Agency’s (PHA) Contact Tracing Service, which brings Northern Ireland into line with that of England, Scotland and Wales.
Education Minister, Michelle McIlveen said: “I recognise the significant burden and challenges that principals have faced since the start of the new term in trying to support contact tracing in schools.
“I want to particularly acknowledge the incredible efforts of school leaders, staff and board of governors in ensuring that effective contact tracing has been in place.
“Over the last few days I have held meetings with the Minister of Health and his officials to urgently resolve this issue.
“It has been agreed that from tomorrow, the PHA’s Contact Tracing Service will take forward the work of contact tracing in schools without the significant level of involvement of school staff that has been the case to date. Only those with the closest contact will be required to isolate and take a PCR test. This move is another step towards normality.”
Concluding the Minister said: “Only in certain circumstances will a school be asked to assist.
“This change aims to result in fewer contacts being asked to isolate, and importantly reduce disruption to our children’s education. It also reflects the evidence that very small numbers of close contacts go on to be a positive case.
“This step will allow schools and other settings to focus on what they do best, which is to educate and support our children and young people.”
The Department will write to education settings this week to outline the changes in more detail.
Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Michael McBride said: “In recent weeks we have seen large numbers of children in schools identified as close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases. This has caused disruption in schools and put pressure on school staff, pupils and parents.
"I have worked closely with colleagues in the Department of Education to agree an approach that minimises disruption for children and schools while supporting our continued efforts to reduce transmission of COVID. Schools have a range of measures in place to reduce the risk of COVID transmission and remain safe for children and staff.
“We will continue to monitor the numbers of cases in schools and the PHA will work closely with school leaders to respond and support with large clusters and outbreaks.
“I would like to thank school staff, parents and most importantly the students for their continued patience and support at this challenging time.”