Stormont ministers expected to approve school closure extension

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)

Schools are currently due to reopen after the mid-term break in the middle of February however there has been a widespread expectation that the date would be pushed back, given executive ministers have already decided to extend the region-wide lockdown to March 5.

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.