1,145 cases in North amid reports of ‘frightened’ teachers

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An additional 19 people have died with Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

Another 1,145 positive cases have been diagnosed with the disease, the Department of Health said on Wednesday.

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There are currently 869 patients being treated for the virus in hospitals, with 56 in intensive care.

The figures come as concern has been raised around staffing levels at special schools, which remain open in the region.

Vulnerable children and the children of key workers can still attend mainstream schools, though most schools across the North are currently closed as part of a wide-ranging lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus.

During a meeting of Stormont’s Education Committee on Wednesday, SDLP MLA Justin McNulty challenged education minister Peter Weir to do more to support “frightened” teachers.

Absent staff

He described being told of a special school where 90 out of 140 pupils were attending, but 38 of its 100 staff were absent.

Mr Weir said where substitute teachers can be provided, they will be sent into classrooms, but stressed there are fewer teachers qualified to work in special schools.

He said it was a difficult time for everyone and his officials are “liaising closely” with special schools.

“There is a clear need for those schools to be open, particularly for many parents who need that help in terms of their child being at school,” he said.

“If there are any issues where there are either resources or specific suggestions, we will certainly take those on board but there is not a perfect solution.”

Public health has never recommended wearing full PPE for teachers

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Mr McNulty also raised concerns about the level of personal protective equipment being provided for teachers, adding that special school teachers “do not feel safe” in work.

Mr Weir said the department has followed the guidance for PPE provided.

“Public health has never recommended wearing full PPE for teachers,” he said.

Department of Education official Ricky Irwin, who also appeared at the committee, added that school leaders have been told that they have operational discretion in terms of maintaining safety.

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