Coronavirus: NI schools to reopen as normal in first week of January

Coronavirus: NI schools to reopen as normal in first week of January

NI Education Minister Peter Weir has said all schools and other education settings will reopen in the first week of January.

He said his “main priority has always been to protect our children’s education, mental health and wellbeing”.

On Thursday, a six-week lockdown was announced for NI.

It will begin on 26 December, with non-essential shops closing after Christmas Eve.

Schools reopened in August having been closed since March and have remained open since with the exception of an extended two-week break for half term.

They did not close early ahead of the Christmas holidays.

Mr Weir said he was “mindful of the impact the pandemic is having on our children and young people, particularly those who are vulnerable and from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

“We have a high number of vulnerable children in Northern Ireland, for many of these pupils school is a safe haven and closing schools will immediately deprive them of this safe space,” he added.

“That is why I have decided that it is in the best interests of all pupils for schools to open in the first week of January so that their education is not disrupted any further.

“I want to again thank school leaders, teachers and staff who have done tremendous work, under very difficult circumstances, to keep schools safe.

“I know that they will continue to reinforce departmental guidance, including the appropriate wearing of masks within schools and on school transport.”

Mr Weir said he would “consider what further steps can be taken to help and support schools and will continue to seek the views of principals, school staff and pupils on this issue”.

Earlier, Health Minister Robin Swann said Northern Ireland’s new six-week Covid-19 lockdown is essentially a return to March’s sustained restrictions.

Hair salons and close-contact services will close. Pubs and restaurants will be restricted to takeaway services.

Tighter measures will be in place for a week from 26 December, with no gatherings allowed between 20:00 GMT and 06:00.

Schools remaining open will be one major diffrence from the spring lockdown.

Mr Swann said the “short, sharp interventions” introduced in October had not worked, so the executive was returning to the level of restrictions which helped curb infection rates earlier in the year.

The reproduction rate – or rate at which the virus spreads – is currently 1 to 1.2, but there are fears it could rise to between 1.4 and 1.8 over Christmas.

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