The majority of pupils at a Claremorris primary school have been kept at home as the controversy over the response to an outbreak of Covid-19 at the school continues.

Only seven pupils turned up at Claremorris Boys National School this morning, according to principal Mark Loftus.

The school told parents last week that it had decided to close for the Christmas break on Friday, because of the high number of children who had tested positive.

However later that day the Department of Education directed the school to remain open.

It reiterated that schools were obliged to remain open until Tuesday 22 December and on Friday evening the school agreed to do so. 

Around 80 of the school's 125 pupils should be in attendance today.

The remaining 45 or so students are obliged to remain at home because they have been deemed to be close contacts, or have themselves tested positive.

Sixteen pupils have tested positive for the virus over the past few weeks. The wider Claremorris area has one of the highest incidences of the virus nationally, at three times the average national rate.

However, last week public health officials stopped short of advising the closure of the school, because they had no evidence that the virus was being transmitted within the school itself.

Mr Loftus says support for the school's stance locally is very strong.

He has called for boards of management to be given proper autonomy to make decisions they believe are in the best interests of school communities.

Mr Loftus said: "People are perplexed. They have volunteered to sit on a Board of Management. It is undermining and quite insulting if they can't be allowed to make a decision for the common good."

He added: "We are not anarchists or chaos creators.

"We are only thinking of what is best for the community."

Meanwhile, the Chief Medical Officer has said he would not comment on decisions made by a local school and authorities, as well as the public health teams who make decisions in good faith.

Speaking at a NPHET briefing, Dr Tony Holohan said the preparations of school communities have helped the collective actions nationally to drive down community transmission.

He said if there is widespread community transmission, it is very difficult to keep it out of environments such as schools and nursing homes.

Dr Holohan said in a general policy sense the well-being and welfare of children is paramount.

He said while there will always be operational issues to be addressed in relation to individual schools in respect of when local public health assessments are made in relation to the school, that would not necessarily change that overall policy view.