Government to ease Covid isolation rules following Nphet advice

The measures are due to be signed off by Ministers at a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Government to ease Covid isolation rules following Nphet advice

Muireann Duffy

Updated: 9am

Ministers are due to sign-off on measures to ease isolation rules for people who test positive for Covid-19 or who are identified as a close contact.

A full Cabinet meeting will be held on Wednesday, at which the latest advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will be considered by the Government.

On Tuesday, public health officials recommended a number of changes to the current isolation periods, including:

  • Asymptomatic close contacts who have received the booster jab should no longer have to restrict their movements for five days
  • Close contacts who have not received the booster jab should restrict their movements for five days
  • People who test positive for Covid should isolate for seven days
  • Positive results from antigen tests should no longer require confirmation with a PCR test

It is understood an online portal is now being established to allow members of the public to upload positive antigen test results and close contact details.

The changes will likely ease pressure on numerous industries currently feeling the strain of high staff absences due to the virus.

Business groups, such as the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (Ibec), had called for such reductions to allow more workers to make a quicker return to work in order to ensure services and critical supply chains continue to operate.

'Shorter wave'

The Nphet recommendations have been welcomed by Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, who told Newstalk Breakfast that the measures will be of benefit to employers and to their staff.

The system in the last few weeks had been “confusing”, he said, and this move would provide clarity.

The Minister warned the virus could not be “let rip”, but explained the number of patients with Covid in ICUs was “holding steady”, adding that Ireland has the second-lowest death rate from Covid in Europe which he attributed to the protection of vaccines.

When asked how employers would know if staff had been fully vaccinated and had received their booster, if they could not ask, Mr Ryan said it was a matter of trust between employer and employee.

Mr Ryan also confirmed that restrictions on the hospitality sector, including the current 8pm curfew, will remain in place until they were reviewed later this month, adding that he is confident those restrictions can be lifted at that time as this appeared to be “a shorter wave”.

'Blanket' easing

Despite the Minister's confidence, Professor of Immunology Christine Loscher has expressed concern about a "blanket" easing of the close contact requirements.

Speaking to the same programme, Prof Loscher said she was surprised by the recommended changes, describing them as "a little bit all or nothing".

Although she understood the need to change the rules for the workplace, especially for essential services, but explained the Omicron variant was much more transmissible, fearing the easing of isolation rules could lead to higher case numbers.

Prof Loscher added that antigen tests will be crucial "if this is the way to go", advising that a test would need to be done every day.

Every public health decision to date had been made on the basis of scientific evidence, she noted, but said: “That does not seem to have happened here.”

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