Fully vaccinated people will no longer have to restrict their movements after being identified as a close contact of a Covid-19 case, under proposals to be considered by the National Public Health Emergency Team on Thursday.
Proposals to further relax the mask-wearing requirements for vaccinated people are also likely to be considered by Nphet as part of a greater “vaccine bonus” for those who have the protection afforded by full immunisation for at least two weeks.
The change will also relieve pressure on the contact tracing system, allowing more resources to be focused on high-risk cases.
Last week, the Government agreed that two people who have been fully vaccinated could be allowed meet up indoors or outdoors. At present, a close contact, usually defined as someone who has spent more than 15 minutes within two metres of a case, has to restrict their movements for 14 days, unless they have a negative test 10 days after the contact.
Under the changes being considered, fully vaccinated people would not be classified as close contacts, unless they were showing symptoms. More than 270,000 people in Ireland have received two doses of an authorised vaccine, according to the latest figures.
With schools set to return fully on Monday for the first time since last December, all indicators of the disease remain stable or in slight decline. The five-day moving average of cases has fallen from 543 to 463 cases per day over the past week, and the positivity rate, at 3.1 per cent, is at its lowest since mid-December.
Nphet on Tuesday night reported 443 new cases and nine deaths, though only one of these occurred this month.
Meanwhile, a fresh row has broken out within Government over plans to extend mandatory hotel quarantine to European countries such as France, Italy and Germany.
At least four Government departments raised concerns during a tense meeting of officials which was designed to find agreement on how to extend the regime to EU countries.
The meeting was chaired by the Department of Taoiseach and included the Departments of Health, Transport, Foreign Affairs, Defence, Justice and Enterprise.
It is understood the latter four departments all raised concerns about what one source said was a “lack of answers to fundamental and basic questions” about how to expand the system.
While there were no Ministers at the meeting, the growing rift between the Department of Health and other key departments is being viewed as politically significant.
There were also questions raised around the need to strengthen the passenger locator form. There is some resistance in Government to the mooted suggestion of enhanced checks for people in home quarantine instead of mandatory hotel quarantine for the additional countries. There is also strong resistance to imposing a cap on arrivals.
Talks are likely to continue in the coming days, and sources said there was pressure on all sides to find an agreement ahead of a Cabinet meeting next week.
The three teachers’ unions are expected to back motions on Wednesday paving the way for industrial action unless the Government moves to change its vaccination policy.
They are understood to have adopted a joint wording which could result in teachers being balloted within weeks. However, the wording will avoid stating the nature or timing of any potential industrial action, say sources.
Minister for Education Norma Foley said the removal of teachers from the vaccine priority queue was driven by science and is "not a value judgment on any profession".