Face masks are no longer generally required in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, under Covid-19 guidance that comes into effect today.
Healthcare workers can continue to wear masks in such settings if they wish, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) said.
In further changes to regulations introduced during the pandemic, adults with respiratory symptoms are advised to stay at home and avoid contact with people until 48 hours after the symptoms have resolved.
Previously, people with symptoms were advised to take a Covid test, but the online portals for booking PCR tests or ordering antigen tests have closed.
The changes are in line with the relaxation of Covid-19 measures in other countries, though the removal of the mask mandate has divided opinion.
Last week, there were 12 Covid-19 outbreaks in hospitals, 16 in nursing homes and seven in community hospitals and residential institutions.
Children with respiratory symptoms who are unwell or who have a high temperature should stay at home and avoid other people, the HPSC advises.
“They can go back to school, college or childcare, and resume normal activities when they no longer have a high temperature and they are well enough to attend.”
Healthcare workers who are dealing with patients are advised to take an antigen test if they have respiratory symptoms and have a high temperature.
Any adult diagnosed with Covid by a PCR or antigen test should stay at home for five days and avoid contact with others. For children, the quarantine period is three days.
Staff and visitors are still advised to wear masks around patients who are confirmed or suspected to have Covid-19.
The guidance says “masks should also be worn in settings where the infection prevention and control team advice indicates that there is a high risk that patients with unsuspected Covid-19 or respiratory viral infections are likely to be present.”
While masks are no longer required for healthcare workers in most settings, they should still be on hand to respect such workers’ preferences, according to the guidance.
The guidance applies outside “periods of high levels of community transmission”.
Healthcare staff may be required to take an antigen test before returning to work.