A GP in Blackpool has described the latest Covid-19 guidance as “a good, practical measure”.
The Government decision brings an end to the five-day isolation period for fully vaccinated close contacts who do not have any symptoms but, they will be advised to wear a medical or higher grade mask and to take regular antigen tests.
Close contacts who have not received a booster vaccine will have to restrict their movements for seven days.
The decision also means that anyone who has Covid-19 will now have to isolate for seven rather than 10 days and there will no longer be a requirement to confirm an antigen test result with a PCR test.
Welcoming the new guidelines, Dr John Sheehan of Blackpool Bridge Surgery said: “I think the change in the rules regarding contacts is very welcome because I think it’s a very practical measure, particularly when the virus is endemic now and I think it’s focusing more on people who are sick and trying to protect them rather than just shutting down everything.”
Dr Sheehan welcomed the decision that PCR tests are no longer needed to confirm positive antigen tests. He said there were “a fair few” referrals for PCR testing after Christmas which was the practice’s busiest period of time “before the system effectively got overloaded”.
“The new guidance hasn’t come in yet but hopefully as time goes on, I think that will reduce down the referrals for PCR testing.
“I think it will make a significant difference in the testing capacity so I think it’s very welcome,” Dr Sheehan said.
He said he is hearing from patients that the delay of four to five days for a PCR test has now decreased to two to three days.
“They seem to be catching up so that’s good news and I think these new rules will make it so that those people who need the test done can get it and those people who don’t need a test and can carry on with the antigen tests and follow the rules in terms of close contacts, that they can carry on and I think that’s more practical.
“I don’t think it will increase the burden of disease around the place, I think it’s just responding to what’s there already,” he said.
Stephen Donnelly, the minister for health, said that the Omicron variant is having a “significant impact on our health service with over 1,000 people currently in hospital with Covid-19” and that the latest guidelines will “help to alleviate the extreme pressure on our healthcare service and other functions in society, including essential services”.
Cabinet has decided that these updates will come into effect from January 14 and the Department of Health and the HSE will now work to operationalise same.