Immunology expert calls on Irish government to close schools this Friday
The professor said it would be a "sensible" move.
The Government should consider closing schools early for Christmas break on Friday to limit the spread of Covid-19, according to Professor of Immunology at DCU Christine Loscher.
The professor made the comments on Today with Claire Byrne after NPHET revealed it estimates that 11% of Covid cases are now due to the Omicron variant.
All schools in Ireland are currently scheduled to close next week on Wednesday, 22 December.
Speaking about Omicron, Loscher said that while the strain may seem milder, most cases of the variant are being reported in younger people whose symptoms would generally be milder.
"We don't really have any hard evidence as to what this is going to look like in older individuals," she explained.
"What we do know is that it's more transmissible and where we have more transmissible translating into very high case numbers, even if it is mild, those high case numbers are still going to impact on the healthcare system.
"I think that's what the worry is down the line - that we'll be overrun by the surge, it will translate into hospitalisations and we'll end up in a tricky situation."
The professor said that this information needs to be acted upon.
"It'll be great in a couple of months' time if we said we maybe overreacted. That would be a brilliant position to be in," she added.
"I don't think we are and I think that we have a chance to get on the front foot and we need to take that chance."
Byrne then asked Loscher what her view is on schools potentially closing early for Christmas.
"In my opinion, being sensible - the kids are in for two and a half days next week," she replied.
"If the schools close this Friday, we have a really long circuit breaker for those children.
"Remember if Omicron is two to three times more transmissible - we know that it's 10 or 11% of cases at the moment.
"That's going to increase next week, that could be up to 50 to 60% next week and we have the biggest cohort of unvaccinated people i.e. children - we will have them mixing to a huge extent coming up to Christmas before we do intergenerational mixing.
"So, I think in terms of just being sensible and preparing for the best possible scenario after Christmas and opening schools, I really think that we should consider, you know, closing schools on Friday.
"Every child then will have at least seven or eight days of very minimal exposure to the virus and other children and mixing."
Byrne then questioned whether Loscher was advising people to take their children out of school from Friday.
"No, I would like to actually see a joined-up decision where we talk about being sensible and making sure that we give ourselves a better chance of a safe opening of schools after Christmas," she said.
"That we do everything we can to control case numbers now."