Routine coronavirus contact tracing to end next month under Nphet plan

Taoiseach urges support for vaccine rollout to developing countries in UN speech

Routine contact tracing for people with Covid-19 is to end from next month, under plans being drawn up by public-health officials.

Most tracing of adult cases’ contacts would end on October 22nd, under the proposals to be considered by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) next month, The Irish Times understands.

Under the proposed change to current arrangements, public-health specialists could still trigger contact tracing following a risk assessment of a particular case or cluster of cases. However, routine use of contact tracing would end.

Nphet officials want to monitor this week’s decision to end contact tracing of asymptomatic cases in the classroom before making a final decision to end contact tracing of adult cases. Travel-related cases are also being monitored following the decision earlier this month to end flight contact tracing.


However, there is confidence that the infection rate among primary schoolchildren will settle down over the coming weeks, despite the decision to allow close contacts not showing symptoms to attend school rather than having to restrict their movements at home.

According to Nphet official Prof Philip Nolan on Friday, the incidence of the disease in five- to 12-year-olds is "at least stable, and probably decreasing", with continued high levels of testing.

The plan to end most contact tracing is part of wider move towards normality in this phase of the pandemic, when more than 90 per cent of the population is largely protected against Covid-19 through vaccination or previous infection.

The Government has set October 22nd as the date for scrapping most Covid-19 restrictions, provided the incidence of the virus remains stable or is falling. Another criterion, the 90 per cent of adults being vaccinated target, has already been reached.

The scale of the State’s contact-tracing operation is large, with almost 1,000 people on it in the Health Service Executive. In mid-August, this involved contacting more than 13,000 cases a week, with 31,000 close contacts notified to staff.

Care facilities

Separately, more than 70 per cent of residential care facilities have ceased serial testing of staff and residents, the HSE has confirmed. Some 435 out of 616 nursing homes and other residential care facilities have been removed from the serial testing programme, according to a spokeswoman.

Each facility has confirmed that at least 80 per cent of staff and residents are vaccinated, in line with Nphet criteria for exiting the programme. Facilities also have to be free of Covid-19 outbreaks.

The HSE said people who are immunocompromised will be notified of an appointment for a third dose of Covid-19 vaccine from next week. Notification of appointments begins on Wednesday and administration of third doses on Friday.

UN General Assembly

Elsewhere Taoiseach Micheál Martin last night urged support for international efforts to roll out vaccines to developing countries as he told the United Nations General Assembly the pandemic had “cast a shadow over our world”.

He said the crisis “caught the world off guard” and put “into stark relief” how there had not been sufficient progress on reducing poverty; increasing access to quality healthcare and education; or in combating the climate crisis.

“Had we made more progress in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, our societies would have been more resilient, better prepared to weather the storm, and lives would have been spared,” Mr Martin said.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

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