Covid-19 close contacts to have period of restricted movement reduced

Positive antigen test will be regarded as sufficient proof for illness benefit

Only PCR tests have been recognised as sufficient proof for illness benefit, though this is set to change.   Photograph: Alan Betson

Only PCR tests have been recognised as sufficient proof for illness benefit, though this is set to change. Photograph: Alan Betson

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Close contacts of people with Covid-19 will have the five-day period of restricted movement reduced if they are fully boosted, under the latest move by Government to ease the impact of the Omicron wave on essential services.

Currently, boosted close contacts are required to limit their movements for five days so long as they have no symptoms, while others have to restrict for 10 days. The five-day requirement for people who have received a booster is under review, with a decision to shorten the period expected soon. The change is designed to facilitate the earlier return to work of employees identified as close contacts, especially in sectors suffering high levels of staff absences.

Employers’ group Ibec called on Friday for the introduction of shortened isolation periods for critical workers due to emerging staff shortages across essential industries.

Under a second proposed change being finalised, a positive antigen test will be regarded as sufficient proof for illness benefit. Only PCR tests have been recognised for this purpose to date.

From Monday those aged between four and 39 are being advised to self-isolate if they test positive on an antigen test, and to seek a confirmatory PCR test.

The HSE website is to be updated shortly to allow people to register positive antigen tests for certification purposes, under a solution being finalised between the HSE and Department of Social Protection.

Further evidence of mounting staff issues emerged on Friday when five hospitals in the University of Limerick Hospitals Group announced the deferral of most scheduled surgery and outpatient appointments next week. A total of 392 staff in the group are off work due to infection, being a close contact or deemed high risk.

Hospital Report

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU
241 23

Hospitals in Mullingar, Naas, Letterkenny, Galway and Cork’s Mercy University Hospital are also under pressure, the HSE said.

Booster vaccines

Meanwhile, booster vaccine doses are being made available to people aged 16 and over from Sunday, more than a week earlier than anticipated.

The acceleration of the rollout means anyone who received their last vaccine more than three months ago, and has not had Covid-19 since, can seek a booster.

Parents and guardians will be able to register children aged between five and 11 for a Covid-19 vaccine from Monday, while vaccination of high-risk children has begun.

On Friday 20,110 new coronavirus cases were confirmed, close to the previous day’s record of 20,554. With the testing system overloaded, officials say these figures underestimate the true number of infections by at least 40 per cent.

The number of Covid patients in hospital increased for the sixth day in a row, up 63 to 682.

Schools

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said schools will reopen on Thursday despite rising infections.

“All of the information that I’ve been given, all of the advice I have, says that whilst of course you can get infection within the schools, they are substantially safer for example than children being outside of schools,” he said.

He was not aware of any European country considering closing schools at present.

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan said the issue would remain under review, but at present the plan is to reopen.

Public health officials are due to meet education sector representatives on Tuesday to review the situation. The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) holds its next meeting on Thursday.

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