Covid: Ireland may cut isolation period for Omicron cases and contacts to five days

A number of senior Ministers are of the view that the State should follow the lead of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US
Covid: Ireland may cut isolation period for Omicron cases and contacts to five days

The isolation period for cases and close contacts of Covid-19 may reduce to five days in Ireland, as the Omicron variant drives record case numbers both here and around the world.

Government Ministers may press to reduce the isolation period, The Irish Times reports, with a number of senior Ministers of the view that the State should follow the lead of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States.

The CDC this week reduced the number of days of self-isolation for positive Covid-19 cases from 10 days to five, as long as they are asymptomatic. It also reduced the quarantine period for close contacts.

It based the changes on research which suggests Omicron is milder but capable of resulting in far more infections, potentially leading to widespread absenteeism across the whole of society.

As a record 16,428 cases were confirmed in the Republic on Wednesday night, one Minister told The Irish Times that a review of the isolation period will be something “on the agenda of Cabinet very early in the new year.”

“Omicron is highly transmissible. If numbers continue to rise at the rate they are at now, the sheer numbers of people in isolation will have a huge impact on jobs and the economy,” they said.

Testing changes

Public health officials are also considering changes to the testing system, which has been put under strain in recent days.

Close to half of the latest swabs taken detected the virus, as test positivity rates have soared to record levels. The Republic’s seven-day test positivity rate now stands at 34.9 per cent.

Despite being tripled in recent weeks, testing capacity is still unable to meet demand as many struggle to secure prompt PCR tests.

The requirement for every case to be confirmed through a PCR test is thus increasingly seen as wasteful, and one option under examination is to make greater use of antigen testing to confirm cases in the general population.

Under this change, PCR testing could be prioritised for at-risk groups such as older people.

Any decision to change rules in relation to testing is unlikely to be made before next week, according to an informed source.

The huge demand for tests has also put IT systems under pressure. The HSE said the self-referral feature on its online portal went down for a time on Wednesday morning but service was restored later in the day.

It comes as a further 22 Covid-related deaths were notified in the State in the past week.

Hospitalisations are continuing to rise, with 568 Covid-19 patients in hospitals around the country as of Wednesday - up 47 from Tuesday. Of these, 93 people are in intensive care, where admissions have remained more stable.

The chief medical officer has urged every member of the public to consider themselves potentially infectious following the record case numbers confirmed on Wednesday.

Dr Tony Holohan said the Omicron variant is “accelerating rapidly in the community and, given the very high levels of transmission of this new variant nationwide, every individual should consider themselves potentially infectious.”

He also warned that shops should be “avoided unless absolutely essential” in the coming days.

“The current levels of infection we are experiencing mean that shopping in crowded environments, where physical distancing is not possible, should be seen as a high-risk activity and should be avoided unless absolutely essential – especially by those who are not yet fully vaccinated and boosted.”

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that infections fuelled by the Omicron variant will remain very high for the "next few days" but should peak "in the next week or so".

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the virus is now "running rife" in the community, but added there were "early signs of hope" from GPs that Omicron may not be as severe as previous variants of the virus.

Dr Ray Walley, a member of the National Covid-19 GP Liaison Committee, said on Wednesday that most people with the Omicron variant are experiencing mild symptoms.

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