Covid-19: Contact tracing no longer required in air travel cases

Flight contact tracing will only be carried out if public health officials say it is necessary

Routine contact tracing of air passengers who test positive for Covid-19 has ended, under new advice issued by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

In future, flight contact tracing will only be carried out where a risk assessment by public health officials indicates it is necessary.

Factors that might give rise to contact tracing include: more than 10 unrelated cases on a flight, among people not travelling as a family or group; or confirmation of a “non-prevalent” variant of concern.

Hospital Report

Total doses distributed to Ireland Total doses administered in Ireland
12,143,670 10,222,511

Contact tracing may also be carried out if there is a public health concern, such as the exposure of highly vulnerable groups, or a high burden of symptoms among cases, according to an updated guide on public health advice from the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre.


The practice of routinely tracing contacts of cases who have flown into Ireland was ceased last week without announcement.

Previously, 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.


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.

Travel-related cases also drove the rapid surge in cases of the new alpha variant before last Christmas.

The recommendation against non-essential international travel was dropped last July, as more people were vaccinated. Despite the lifting of restrictions, only 2 per cent of people report having travelled off the island of Ireland in the previous weeks, and three-quarters say they do not intend to travel this year.

Some 306 cases were linked to travel last week, but there were no travel-related outbreaks, according to the latest HSE reports. Since the start of the current wave over two months ago, 41 outbreaks have been linked to overseas travel, involving 149 linked cases. The biggest single travel outbreak involved 11 cases.

Meanwhile, school staff unions say it is “far too early” to relax Covid test and tracing protocols in schools.

Unvaccinated children

They were reacting to plans discussed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to allow unvaccinated children who are close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case to remain in school from the end of September.

The increased number of cases among primary school students since schools reopened is currently resulting in about 1,200 children being forced to restrict their movements every day.

Well-placed sources say the requirement for these children to stay off school is likely to be eased from the week beginning September 27th, but it is predicated on data around transmission in schools not showing a sudden or unexpected surge.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said any changes should be reviewed closer to the mid-term break in October and introduced thereafter.

Fórsa, which represents about 14,000 school staff including special needs assistants (SNAs), school secretaries and caretakers, said new advice should not be implemented until there is a consistent pattern of reduced infections in schools and the wider community.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent