All passengers on flights with confirmed Omicron cases to be contact traced

Guidelines for household contacts also updated to take new variant into account

Routine contact tracing of air passengers who test positive for Covid-19 ended in September. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

All passengers on flights with a confirmed case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 will be contract traced under public health measures updated on Friday.

The HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) also updated the contract-tracing guidelines for the management of household contacts to take the Omicron variant into account.

Routine contact tracing of air passengers who test positive for Covid-19 ended in September, with advice at the time saying that it would only be carried out where a risk assessment by public health officials indicated it was necessary.

Hospital Report

Prior to that, contact tracing was recommended for confirmed cases who were on a flight while infectious. Usually, this involved tracing contacts who were seated within two seats or rows of the case.


Where three or more cases were identified on a flight, officials would carry out a risk assessment, which could result in the entire flight being contact traced.

On Friday the HSPC’s interim guidance on the Omicron variant and required actions for all clinicians, hospitals and public health was updated with an appendix on “Enhanced Public Health Measures” inserted.

The appendix includes measures related to flights.

The document says all passengers on flights with a confirmed Omicron case will be contact traced “regardless of the origin of the flight”.

This will happen where the infected person was a passenger within 14 days of detection or onset of symptoms.

Home quarantine

In relation to flights with “probable cases”, the guidance is to “contact trace two seats in all directions on same flight into Ireland during infectious period”.

Under the guidance, flight contacts are to “home quarantine (self-isolate) for 10 days from date of flight landing, with exit after Day 10 ‘not detected’ test”.

Studies have shown international travel played a central role in reseeding cases in Ireland in summer 2020, including new variants.

In one documented outbreak last year, a single seven-hour flight to Dublin led to 59 cases in Ireland.

Concern over the Omicron variant prompted Government to bring in new travel restrictions including a requirement for arriving passengers to produce evidence of a negative antigen or PCR test, and home quarantine for people travelling from some African countries, including South Africa where the new variant was first identified.

Household contacts

The HPSC also updated its advice on the management of household close contacts to take Omicron into account, bringing the guidance in line with measures for the Beta and Gamma Variants of Concern (VOCs).

Additional contract tracing measures are no longer applied to Alpha and Delta cases, which have been the main strains of Covid-19 in Ireland for several months.

The additional measures for VOCs include a requirement that a source investigation be undertaken for any case detected.

There should also be a focus on supporting those who need to self-isolate or restrict their movements to aid compliance with recommended public health measures.

Following a risk assessment, an outbreak control team may be established where appropriate.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times