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Covid contact changes will free up hundreds of thousands for work

Easing of rules for people with booster jab who have no symptoms

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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly

Hundreds of thousands of close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases will benefit from the scrapping of “stay at home” rules that are expected to be announced by the Government today.

Close contacts who are fully-boosted and have no symptoms of the virus will no longer have to restrict their movements, under new advice from chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.

His letter, however, has advised that household contacts aged up to 12 will still have to restrict their movements for seven days.

The advice is also that household contacts aged four to 12 should be given antigen tests over the course of seven days after coming into contact with a positive Covid-19 case.

The Cabinet is expected to approve the new guidance today.

It is believed there are around 300,000 close contacts of the more than 110,000 people who have tested positive for the virus in the past five days,

Many of them will not have to restrict their movements under the new rules, provided they are boosted and are showing no symptoms of the virus. The average number of close contacts per person is three, the Department of Health said last night.

At present, a close contact of a Covid-19 case who has been boosted for more than seven days must restrict their movements – that is, stay at home for five days and do three antigen tests with two days between each test.

If any test turns out to be positive, they are advised to isolate from everyone else in their home and get a PCR test.

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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly also told Newstalk last night that people who have received a positive antigen test result will no longer need to receive a confirmatory PCR test.

In other changes announced by the minister, close contacts who have not received a booster will now have to isolate for seven days.

For those who have tested positive for the virus, the isolation period will be reduced from 10 days to seven.

Mr Donnelly said the new rules would be discussed by ministers, but was unclear when they might come into force.

“Pretty soon, obviously,” he said. “That’s something for the Cabinet to discuss, and the Government is very keenly aware of the burden on people. We know there are people who want to get back to work.

“We don’t want thousands and thousands of people around the country with nothing to do. There are employers who want people to get back to work. We know there’s people who just want to be able to go out and live their lives. We want to balance that, obviously, against making sure it’s done right and done safely.

“We have to get back to work. But we have to have a portal in the background as another variant can appear very quickly.”

Mr Donnelly said one health worker in every eight was absent from the frontline because of current rules and that ditching the isolation requirement for healthy close contacts would help with the workload. However, he added that there were already derogations in the health sector that allowed for many of those people to go back to work, so it was hard to say what the effect would be.

A temporary derogation from certain driving and resting time rules due to a driver shortage were also announced by the Department of Transport and Road Safety Authority.

Mr Donnelly said: “At the moment, if you’re deemed a close contact and you’re boosted, you’ve basically had to stay home for five days. Now what the advice is that you don’t have to go home at all.”

The minister said the public health advice to scrap isolation for close contacts who have been boosted was a tribute to people’s behaviour so far.

“There’s a lot of people who’ve had their first two vaccinations, and they’ve had Covid within the last three months, which means they’re not eligible for the booster yet,” he said. “They’re also included in not having to isolate.”

“So that’s millions of people now in the country who will essentially have no restricted movement.”

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also said it makes sense to allow thousands of people to go back to work.

“I do think we need to relax the rules around close contacts, but I also think we need to do it in a way that is safe, and we’re really relying on the CMO to come up with the best advice on that,” he said.

“The Government will act on that in the morning.”



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