Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma speaking directly to children and young people, said:
"We have come such a long way since March 2020 when we all faced the first lockdown of this dreadful pandemic. Yes Covid has hit everyone hard, and some unfortunately harder than others, I believe we still don’t know the full effect on you as children and young people.
"Your education, your natural desire to want to be with your friends and families, your right and need to play sports and enjoy your hobbies has all been taken away from you. It is important not to under-estimate the sacrifices you have had to make, the challenges you have faced and the impact this has had on you and your families.
"And here we are, in the week of Christmas and yet another severe lockdown. We have learned so much about this virus since March. For example at first we didn’t think teenagers could pass the virus on as much as adults, but now we know they can. Over the weekend we also learned more about how the virus has changed, with a new variant that experts think may work faster in young people.
"It has been difficult for our government to make the right decision when it comes to your education but I strongly believe that schools must stay open if at all possible, and should only close as a last resort. Being at school doesn’t only mean that you won’t miss out on your education, which is incredibly important, but it will also allow you to see your friends in a safer environment than outside of school. The evidence is also clear that being in school supports your mental health and well-being and also for some of you, keeps you safe from issues at home. But that comes at a cost and means some other activities that you enjoy in club and social settings, must, for now, remain closed and cancelled.
"We must also recognise that there may be a time when the balance falls the other way and schools may not be able to open or only open in a limited way. Indeed earlier today the Minister announced its likely that non-exam pupils in post primary schools will learn from home from the end of January. NICCY will continue to carefully examine the evidence to make sure that this is done in your best interests, as well as those of the whole community.
"Even with the new variant of the virus we are getting closer to the end. The long awaited vaccine is now being rolled out and this will mean you can spend much missed and longed for time with your whole family and friends just like you used to. I know in the future when you tell your story of Covid-19, you will be able to tell how you played your part, made sacrifices, kept your distance, limited your contacts, and helped to stop the spread of the virus.
"So please continue to do that, you have done a lockdown before and you can do this one too. Enjoy your Christmas and for the next 6 weeks (or for however long it’s needed) continue to follow the measures and restrictions. By working together we can all help to protect our health service and the lives of the most vulnerable members of your families and community.
"That will help build a strong foundation for a much better, much brighter, much safer and more normal second half of 2021.