Stormont ministers expected to approve school closure extension

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A proposal to extend the substantive closure of schools in Northern Ireland is expected to be signed off by the Stormont executive later.

Education Minister Peter Weir has tabled a paper for executive colleagues recommending that the current arrangements, which only allow vulnerable children and those of key workers to attend class, are extended to Friday March 5.

That would see a potential return to school on Monday March 8.

However, in his paper Mr Weir acknowledges that not all pupils may be able to get back into classroom setting on that date and he raises the potential of a phased return, with children in key exam years returning first.

The minister stressed that any move to bring more children back to school will be dependent on the public health situation at the start of March.

Northern Ireland Education Minister Peter Weir (Simon Graham/PA)
Northern Ireland Education Minister Peter Weir (Simon Graham/PA)

Mr Weir is also asking executive colleagues to support his call for special school teachers to be prioritised for Covid-19 vaccinations.

Decisions vaccination prioritisation are ultimately made on a UK-wide basis by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

At Thursday’s executive meeting, ministers will also be told that the reproduction rate for new cases of Covid-19 is between 0.65 and 0.8.

The R rate for hospital admissions is between 0.8 and 0.9 while for ICU admissions it is between 0.95 and 1.15.

Ministers will also be told that several other main indicators of the virus are tracking downward.

However, the lag period between infection and hospital admissions means the numbers of ICU admissions continues to rise in Northern Ireland.

Coronavirus – Tue Dec 8, 2020
People aged between 65 and 69 can now receive a Pfizer/BioNTech jab at seven centres across Northern Ireland (Liam McBurney/PA)

The move marked the start of a twin-track approach aimed at accelerating the vaccination process in the region.

While people aged 70 and over will continue to receive AstraZeneca jabs at GP practices, the Pfizer vaccine is being offered to the 65-69 age group in the mass centres.

The centres were originally set up to vaccinate health care staff.

Those aged 65-69 can now book a slot for vaccination at a centre using an online portal.

The initiative has been developed to ensure a batch of Pfizer vaccination allocated to Northern Ireland does not go to waste.

People aged 70 or over will be informed by their GP when they can receive a jab.

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