Senior civil servants to decide on Covid rules for key workers

Derogations already in place within health service for key staff who are close contacts

Senior civil servants will decide if key workers who are symptom free should be exempt from Covid-19 isolation requirements under contingency plans to ensure public services remain in operation amid high levels of infection.

There are already derogations in place within the health service for key staff who are close contacts of people with the virus.

The possibility of exemptions for other key workers like gardaí, fire service personnel, prison officers and those involved in infrastructure and public utilities, such as water services and power supply has also been under consideration due to concern over the possible impact of the Omicron variant.

A Government statement noted that departments are “working to ensure the full implementation of existing sectoral guidance, as well as putting in place contingency plans to ensure the continued operation of critical infrastructure and essential services”.


Critical service areas

It added: “There are specific arrangements already in place for healthcare workers that are close contacts and these will continue.

“In respect of other relevant sectors, secretaries general of relevant departments may exercise discretion for the exceptional use of derogations. There should be no mass derogations for any types of workers outside of the current arrangements applying in the health and social care sectors. Nor should any worker who has tested positive or has symptoms attend work in any circumstances.

“Derogations may only be applied when workers are symptom-free, all other efforts to backfill key positions have been exhausted and critical service areas or infrastructure is at risk.”

Under the plans workers who are subject to the derogation who are not working alone “should register antigen test results with their employer for the period during which they would be otherwise liable to restrict movements.”

Employers should make antigen tests available where necessary to top up Health Service Executive provided supplies.

The statement also noted: “Derogations for workers are for the purposes of work only and HSE close contact guidance regarding restriction of movements should continue to be adhered to in the non-work context.”

The Government is said to be “continuing to monitor the situation closely”.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times