There is no requirement for most healthcare workers returning from northern Italy or other parts of the world where coronavirus is in active transmission to self-isolate for 14 days.
The exception relates to staff returning from areas of “higher community transmission”, who are required to stay at home for this period.
As of late February, these areas included Hubei province in China (but not the rest of China), two cities in South Korea, Iran and, in the case of Italy, 11 specified towns, 10 of which are in the province of Lombardy.
Around that time, however, the affected area in Italy was expanded from the 11 towns to cover the entirety of four northern provinces in the country.
This means Irish people returning from skiing trips in alpine Italy, including key healthcare workers, before this time were not required to self-isolate, despite the growing number of cases in the country’s northern provinces.
The rules that apply are contained in several HSE guidance documents, including the “National Interim Guidelines for Public Health management of contacts of cases of Covid-19, including healthcare workers”, dated March 2nd.
It warns that if Covid-19 is acquired by a healthcare worker, the potential impact on a vulnerable patient population could be “extremely serious”.
“In addition, onward transmission of Covid-19 and subsequent outbreaks may be more likely in healthcare facilities” and, as a result, the advice for healthcare workers returning from such areas is different than for other visitors, students and workers.
The rules say all healthcare workers coming back from affected areas should contact their local department of public health before returning to work.
If they are well, and if their exposure was to an area of “ongoing community transmission outside the areas of higher community transmission” they can return to work but are subject to “active monitoring” by their local occupational health service or line manager for 14 days.
People in this category have no restrictions on their movement or travel but should remain contactable at all times. There is no requirement for them to be tested.
If they were in the areas with “higher community transmission” – which included the 11 towns in Italy up to the end of February, and thereafter all four northern Italian provinces – they are required to stay at home, undergo “passive follow-up” and are asked to self-monitor.
The HSE referred further questions on the rules that should apply to the Department of Health.