The latest data from public health sources shows a reduction in the number of positive cases identified among primary school age children over the past two weeks.

HPSC data for last week shows cases recorded in the 5 to 12-year-old age group down by 36% compared to a fortnight ago.

Last week, 4,726 primary school age children tested positive in PCR tests, compared to a high of 7,359 two weeks earlier.

This age group now accounts for 14.3% of all cases, compared to 21.5% at the beginning of the month.

This fall is also reflected in the latest Covid incidence data from the HSE, which shows a falling incidence rate in this age cohort for the past two weeks.

Defending the safety record of schools this lunchtime, the Minister for Education said that around 90,000 antigen tests had been distributed in the past three weeks as part of the newly introduced schools' antigen testing programme.

The programme, which was introduced at the end of last month, makes antigen tests available to children and staff who are close contacts in a school setting.

Norma Foley said just 3.6% of the tests had returned a positive reading and that follow-on PCR tests had yielded a positivity rate of "just over" 2%.

However, the HSE told RTÉ News that of 90,351 antigen kits dispatched - each containing five tests - 8,170 results were reported.

Of those, 4,867 were negative and 3,303 were positive. There were 1,873 cases of the virus subsequently detected in follow-on PCR testing.

Minister Foley said that public health officials remained of the view that household settings were the main driver of infection in children.

The minister said that any additional infection prevention and control measures required by public health for schools will be put in place.

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She said that it remains the view of school communities and wider society that children are best served by being in school.

With regard to the scheduled reopening of schools in January, she said: "That is our objective and we are moving in that direction."

Earlier, the minister and officials from her department and the Department of Health met school management bodies and school staff trade union representatives to discuss plans for the reopening of schools.

The authorities have agreed to carry out a review of public health measures in schools in light of the evolving situation with the Omicron variant.

The parties have also agreed to meet again during the holidays prior to the scheduled reopening of schools on 6 January.

They have also agreed to a renewed public health awareness campaign aimed at parents. This is because schools say that some parents are still sending symptomatic children in to school.

Schools closed today for the Christmas break.

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Ms Foley said the Leaving Certificate Examinations for 2022 will go ahead as planned with a second sitting available for students.

She said that that significant work has been undertaken on next year's Leaving Certificate by various partners in education, including students, and that significant accommodations have been made on exam papers.

The minister said that a second running of the examinations would be facilitated to accommodate students who miss the first sitting as a result of Covid-19 or bereavements.