Nphet advises end to most mask-wearing rules

Chief medical officer proposes standing down public health team

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has made a new proposal for the future management of Covid-19, in what is being seen as a significant step towards standing down the National Public Health Emergency Team in its current form.

Dr Holohan told a meeting of the team on Thursday a proposal has been given to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on the path ahead, and said the meeting could be the last held by Nphet in its current form.

He thanked the members for their service, in case he did not get another chance to do so.

Hospital Report

No time and date has been set for the next meeting.


One source at the meeting said the impression they got was: “We’re done.”

A move to a more normalised approach, out of the emergency stance that gave rise to Nphet, is now seen as highly likely by multiple sources. This would entail the disease being managed without the input of a body comprised of outside experts such as Nphet, and instead being managed through existing structures. But the final decision rests with Mr Donnelly.

The meeting also agreed a significant shake up to testing and masking in the country.

Under a new masking regime, masks will only be needed in healthcare settings, and the advice to mask on public transport, in retail settings and in schools will lapse. The advice will be finalised in a letter to Mr Donnelly.

The regulation-based approach to mask-wearing will no longer be in place, sources said. However, it will still be seen as important, and people will be encouraged to wear masks if they feel more comfortable in so doing - especially on public transport, which is a crowded setting that people cannot avoid.

The meeting also agreed to issue new advice to Government that would radically change the testing system for Covid-19.

It is understood testing will be focused on the over 55s, those who are are vulnerable, and those who live with someone in those categories.

Otherwise, the advice will be for people to self-isolate if they are sick with Covid symptoms until they have abated. Close contacts will not need to seek a PCR test. It is thought that unvaccinated and unboosted people will still be advised to seek a test.

The changes to masking and testing have been advised to come into place at the end of February.

It is expected that the Government will accept the advice.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health said they have been another 5,035 positive cases of Covid-19 confirmed by PCR testing in Ireland. In addition, a further 4,406 people registered a positive antigen test through the HSE portal. As of 8am on Thursday, there were 639 Covid-19 patients in hospital, with 58 of those in intensive care.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times