This can be the first big step towards the ultimate goal of living with COVID-19.
The change in isolation rules for those who have had the virus, and also for close contacts, could be the boldest move at a time when the highly contagious Omicron variant is still raging.
However, this may be the cost necessary to deal with employee absenteeism and some workplaces being virtually stalled.
Q. What are the changes being made for people who test positive for COVID-19?
To. The self-isolation period is now seven days for all those who have tested positive.
This applies to vaccinated and non-vaccinated people.
By now if you had the virus and had received your COVID-19 booster vaccine, you would have self-isolated for seven days. If you hadn’t been boosted it would have been 10 days.
But this has now been reduced to seven days, regardless of the vaccination status. People should have regular antigen testing over seven days, with the last test on the last day.
Q. Is there a change in the length of time that someone with close contact with a confirmed case restricts activities and stays at home?
To. If you have no symptoms and you are enlarged, you no longer need to restrict your movements for five days. However, you are required to have an antigen test for seven days and wear a medical face mask or high-grade FFp2 mask for 10 days.
Why. Who else is exempt from restricting movements if they are close contacts?
To. A person asymptomatic, who has had two doses of the vaccine and tested positive for COVID since December 1, need not restrict his movements.
Q. What if there is a close contact and not extended?
To. You still have to restrict your movements but it has been cut from 10 to seven days.
Question. When should the ban period start?
To. From the date of last contact with the positive case or if not known, from the date of notification.
Q. Are there changes in the type of COVID-19 test a person needs?
To. Yes, it is no longer mandatory for people between the ages of 4 and 39 to confirm it by PCR test. However, people 40 and older are still required to have a confirmatory test.
Question. So if someone tests positive with an antigen test, how do they notify HSE?
To. A portal is expected to open in the next few days to establish their close contacts.
Q. Do people have to buy antigen test themselves?
To. If they are close contacts they will be sent tests from their home to HSE. Close contacts to date have been given three antigen tests with two days between each test.
> What is the rationale behind these changes?
To. Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said the changes are not without risk. But he added that the high proportion of people who have received the Covid-19 booster shot has helped provide a high level of protection against serious illness. This is one of the key assurances behind the new measures.
This comes against a backdrop of very high levels of absenteeism due to employees self-isolating or restricting their movements, causing major disruption to some public services, including healthcare and private businesses.
Question. When will these changes come into effect?
To. They are due to come into effect from Thursday midnight and will remain in force till the end of February.
Q. Is Ireland at the forefront of reducing the period of isolation for people suffering from COVID-19?
To. It is even less in the United States at five days. Britain is also planning to reduce it to five days. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States said its decision to cut isolation was “inspired by science showing that most Covid-19 transmission occurs early in the course of the disease, usually 1-2 days before symptoms occur.” for the beginning and after 2-3 days.
Question. If I have a positive antigen test, can it be used to get COVID proof?
To. It is still unclear, but it is likely that PCR testing will continue to be required for a COVID-19 recovery certificate.
Q. Will antigen testing be sufficient for a sick certificate?
To. There is no clarity on this yet. It has been said in the cabinet memo that work needs to be done on this.
Q. Do changes come with medical support?
To. He is signed by Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan.
Q. What has been the reaction to the changes?
To. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization said the change is likely to expose more people to the virus. It said allowing potentially infected asymptomatic people to work would impact case transmission. Christine Loscher, professor of immunology at DCU, said she was concerned about abandoning the need for close contacts to restrict movements across the board. It suggested that instead exceptions could be made for some difficult areas. He is concerned that some people vulnerable to the virus will be at higher risk of it.
Q. Will antigen tests be provided free of cost now?
To. There are no plans to subsidize or make the antigen test free. HSE will send them to the homes of those who test positive or are in close contact.
> What about making medical face masks or higher grade masks more affordable?
To. It’s not on the agenda yet. FFp2 masks in particular are expensive. HSE is expected to send high grade masks to those who are positive or are close contacts.