Requirement for schoolchildren who are close contacts to isolate set to be eased

Those who show symptoms will still have to stay away from school under plan discussed by Nphet

Unvaccinated children who are close contacts of a confirmed case of Covid will not have to stay out of school from the end of September, under plans discussed on Thursday by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

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 over transmission in schools not showing a sudden or unexpected surge.

Vaccinated children currently do not have to restrict their movements if they are close contacts.

Hospital Report

Health sources also say a key requirement will be for people who start to display symptoms to stay at home, as reduced compliance in this area will likely drive rapid growth in the disease and endanger further reopening plans.


However, the team also agreed that the country is on track to proceed with the next reopening dates as planned, which will see the phased return to the office from next Monday, among other measures.

Nphet also took advice from the Health Information and Quality Authority on the use of masks for the under-13s, which recommended that this not be adopted. The team endorsed this recommendation, meaning no masking requirement will be extended to young children.

Sources indicated there was significant discussion at the meeting over the future of the test and trace system, with a scaled-down version of the current approach likely to be instituted in the months and weeks ahead.

Changing the approach to isolation for school children is seen as the first step in this process, with many of the public health doctors on the team in favour of this approach. Some of those with specialisms elsewhere, such as in infectious disease, are more reticent.

The Nphet meeting also dealt with new advice on when and how antigen tests should be used.

A paper on antigen testing advised that determining factors should be the prevalence of disease in a particular setting being high - for example in a school or professional setting - while value for money and ethical considerations were also important. It was also advised that they are not good for picking up asymptomatic infection.

It is understood the use of not-detected antigen tests as “green light” testing for people who are symptomatic and would otherwise be expected to self-isolate at home was strongly counselled against.

A further 1,413 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported in the State on Thursday. As of 8am on Thursday, 290 Covid-19 patients were in hospital, of which 67 were in ICU.

Figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre showed the number of Covid-19 cases in the State fell last week, for the fourth week in a row.

In the Republic, the incidence of the disease continues to fall in all age groups except primary schoolchildren and, to a lesser extent, children aged under five.

There were 40 school outbreaks last week, up from 17 the previous week.

Cases among children account for 5.9 per cent (74,186) of all cases during the pandemic, and 20.3 per cent in the current wave.

On Twitter, Nphet member Prof Philip Nolan said the number of people in critical care in the Republic remained high and it would take several weeks for the now-decreasing incidence of the disease to drive down numbers in ICU.

Amid a surge in demand for testing among children aged 5-12 - which has quadrupled in the last three weeks - Prof Nolan said 1 per cent of that age group was now being tested every day.

This had caused an increase in the number of infections that were being picked up, but he said “it is likely that there is at worst a modest increase in incidence in children of primary school age coincident with the opening of schools”.

In Northern Ireland, five further deaths of patients with Covid-19 were reported and there were 1,071 new confirmed cases.

The North’s minister for health Robin Swann confirmed he had made another request for military assistance in the battle against Covid-19, describing the health service as “under pressure as never before”.

He said were “exhausted” and “I am determined to activate any measure that can alleviate the situation in any way”.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

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

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times