The government will consider a plan to relax the rules of close contacts

The government is to consider a plan to relax rules around close contacts on Wednesday following public health advice.

Under the proposals, close contacts of Covid-19 cases will no longer have to restrict their movements for five days if they have got a booster jab and are asymptomatic.

Currently, close contacts of a COVID case must restrict their movements, regardless of their vaccination status, and conduct three antigen tests every two days.

If a person tests positive on the antigen, they are asked to book a PCR test.

In the last week of December, the total number of close contacts stood at 229,113, which is 123% more than the previous week.

The average number of cases managed per day increased from 9,200 to 18,367, an increase of 99% over the same period.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the cabinet will also discuss plans to reduce the period of isolation for people who test positive for COVID-19 who have not received a booster.

“We really want to try and ease the burden on people,” he said.

“We are very aware of how difficult this is for people, for their employers, and for their communities, because so many people have been told to restrict their movements if they are in close contact.

I’ve given about two and a half million boosters now, and then every week there are hundreds of thousands of people who are testing positive for covidStephen Donnelly, Minister of Health

“If you have elevated immunity you are asked to restrict your movements for five days. This requirement will be completely eliminated – so no restricted movement.

“Now, the recommendation is still clearly that there is regular antigen testing for several days and that people wear high-grade masks during that period.”

Mr Donnelly said: “We have now given about two and a half million boosters, and then every week there are hundreds of thousands of people who are testing positive for COVID.”

Meanwhile, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Tony Holohan told Mr Donnelly that half a million people in Ireland were likely to have contracted COVID-19 in the past week.

In a letter, Dr Holohan said the five-day rolling average of daily cases today stands at 19,259, up 349% from the figure recorded on December 16.

Earlier, Taniste Leo Varadkar said the time has come to “relax the rules for close contacts” amid fears of employees in key sectors.

Mr Varadkar suggested that people who have received a booster vaccine, do not have symptoms, and have produced a negative antigen test, may be exempted from the rules.

Taniste also said there are grounds for “cautious optimism” that restrictions such as the 8 p.m. curfew on hospitality could be eased in February.

I think we need to relax the rules for close contacts, but I also think we need to do it in a safe wayLeo Varadkari

“Essentially, when it comes to any public health advice you have to make sure it does more good than harm,” Varadkar said of plans to ease close contact rules.

“We have a problem at the moment where, after the pandemic first started, some supermarkets had to close because the employees are out because they are close contacts.

“Some childcare facilities are closing and people are being denied healthcare in some cases, not because of Covid, but because people are at home – important workers are at home – because they are close contacts and they Have been told not to go to work.”

Over the weekend, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) issued an advisory saying close contact rules could be eased in situations where countries “expect high or extreme pressures on healthcare systems and other functions in society”. including essential services”.

I think we need to relax the rules for close contacts, but I also think we need to do it in a safe wayLeo Varadkari

Mr Varadkar told RTE News: “There are three different scenarios, depending on the impact it will have on your economy and society.

“Certainly from my point of view, I think for people who have been increased, who have the third dose, who don’t have symptoms, who have a negative antigen test, it’s up to us to allow them to go back to work. Makes sense. And go on with your normal life as well.”

The ECDC said antigen tests for these cases would have to be done by professionals and cannot be self-administered at home.

“These are things that obviously the CMO and his team are going to consider and they’re going to advise us,” Varadkar said.

“I think we need to relax the rules for close contacts, but I also think we need to do it in a safe way.

“We are really counting on the CMO to give him the best advice and the government will act on that in the morning.”

Mr Varadkar also indicated that the current restrictions, which were originally due to be lifted on January 9, may be eased in a phased manner from February.

“I think there are certainly grounds in the medium term for captive optimism,” he said.

“I think it’s pretty clear now that Omicron is less severe than previous strains of the virus.

“It is inherently less severe, but there has been a lot of build-up of immunity among people exposed to vaccines and COVID.

“And while we are seeing record numbers of cases, it is not translating into hospital admissions, ICU admissions and deaths in the previous waves.

“It is very reassuring.

“But now is not the time to let down our guard.

“It’s still unfolding. It’s probably not peaking. We expect it to peak during January.

“Then we’ll be in a position to start easing restrictions in February, but that’s still in the offing and it’s too early.”

I wouldn’t want this to be the third summer in which Ireland has the strictest rules in Europe. Leo Varadkari

Mr Varadkar also said he would like to see fewer restrictions in Ireland this summer than in the previous pandemic, when the country maintained some of the stricter rules in Europe.

He said: “We are probably the only country in the world where it is not possible to stand at a bar for two years or go to your office if you wish.

“Certainly my view is that when it comes to easing restrictions in the spring and summer, we should not be outsiders.

“We must keep pace with the reopenings that are visible across Europe.

“I wouldn’t want this to be the third summer in which Ireland has the strictest rules in Europe.

“It was appropriate when people were not vaccinated, when we did not have vaccines. In my view, it would not be fair this summer.

“We must try to harmonize with other European countries, but do it safely and do it in a phased manner.”