The risk of transmission of Covid-19 is greater at the school gate than in the classroom, a Public Health Agency official said.

Days before a Stormont Executive discussion on reopening schools, Dr. Joanne McClean did the work to ensure the safety of students and staff in the classroom.

But she said that while the classroom environment can be controlled, mixing outside of it is not.

The death toll from the pandemic hit 2,000 on Monday with a further four deaths from Covid, while the daily number of cases stood at 232.

Most schools have been closed since the Christmas break as part of a lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Special schools remained open, and mainstream schools were open to the children of key workers.

Ministers will discuss a possible date for all schools to reopen at their meeting on Thursday.

Dr McClean said the evidence showed that in schools the risk to staff was not zero, but no greater than other members of the workforce.

“Schools are not the main source of transmission … the risk to classroom staff is no greater than to other staff and part of that is down to the excellent measures that schools have taken,” she told the BBC’s Stephen Nolan. Show.

“Schools have done an enormous amount, school administrations have worked hard since September to introduce completely new ways of working in schools.”

However, she added that children and staff in classrooms “cannot be summoned.”

“There are two parts, there is the part that happens in the classroom that schools can monitor … and then there is the part that happens outside the gates,” she said.

“You only have to look at one school… a child goes to school, all the measures are in place, but as soon as they walk out the door there is a mix of parents.”

Dr McClean said opening schools increased the reproduction number, or R-value, of the virus by an estimated 0.3 to 0.6.

“Every contact is important, where people meet, the coronavirus has the potential to spread and that’s why it’s so difficult for the leader, they have to keep all our interactions to a minimum, but also somehow make society work ,” she said.

“Overall, the message for all of us remains that every contact matters, minimize your contacts, stay at home and only interact with other people when you really have to.”

The Stormont chief executive is also expected to discuss the future reopening of businesses, including retail and hospitality, on Thursday.

Colin Neill, head of Hospitality Ulster, and Glyn Roberts, head of Retail NI, said businesses need to be involved so they can prepare.

Mr Neill said the hospitality industry had been “hit the hardest” during the lockdown and insisted lessons had to be learned.

“Let’s be proactive, plan well ahead and fight back and accelerate recovery,” he said.

Mr Roberts said preparations must begin now, so that non-essential shops can be reopened at a later date.

He said Covid marshalls, public hand sanitiser and business compliance must be in place, with executive branch, councils and businesses working together to create a plan to reopen High Street.

“In addition, we need to hear much more hope in messages from the executive branch to give businesses and the wider community confidence that the introduction of the vaccine will lead to recovery and some normalcy,” he said.

“The management needs more light and fewer tunnels in their communication.”