There have been many changes and tweaks to the Covid-related guidelines and restrictions but a significant one comes into play from today: children under 12 who are identified as close contacts in school don’t have to isolate or be sent for a test.
“Contact tracing of close contacts in childcare facilities and primary education and testing of asymptomatic close contacts in childcare facilities and primary education will no longer be necessary,” said Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer.
“Children aged 12 years or under, who are identified as close contacts in childcare and educational settings or other non-household settings and who are asymptomatic will no longer be required to routinely restrict movements.
“Cases in Special Educational Needs settings, and respite care should have a Public Health Risk Assessment which may still require children to be identified as close contacts, be referred for testing and have their movements restricted.
“Given the substantially higher risk of transmission in households as compared to any other setting, children aged 12 years or under, who are identified as household close contacts, will still be required to restrict movements and be tested, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms.
“Public health advice remains that any child aged 12 years or under who displays symptoms consistent with COVID-19 should rapidly self-isolate, not attend childcare or school or socialise and follow all medical and public health guidance.
“Of course, it may take some time to adjust to this new advice for close contacts and if you have any concerns at all relating to symptoms of COVID-19 you should contact your GP and be guided by their advice. The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will continue to monitor the trajectory of the disease.”
Dr Holohan referenced the significant increase in testing in children of a school-going age – but that there has only been a “relatively modest increase in the detection of cases”.
“Over the last few weeks, it has been heartening to see our young people across the island return to in-person learning in educational settings.
“The role education plays in our society is immense, and, throughout this pandemic, the necessary public health measures have been designed to protect this vital sector and the wider school community from the worst impacts of COVID-19.
“The resumption of in-person education was associated with a significant increase in the numbers of children referred for testing in recent weeks. This was entirely to be expected.
“We know that parents and teachers are doing an excellent job being mindful of symptoms and arranging tests as per the current public health advice.
“Despite this increased testing, there has only been a relatively modest increase in the detection of cases in the school going age group. We have also seen the associated positivity rate recently decrease from 16% to 5% which is very reassuring.
“This is a credit to the infection prevention and control measures being implemented and adhered to by all members of our school communities and I would like to thank everyone who continues to play their part in adhering to the public health measures.
“Both nationally and internationally, the evidence tells us that schools are a low risk setting for the transmission of COVID-19 among school-going children and, as such, now is the right time to evolve our contact tracing approach, while maintaining the infection prevention and control measures in place in educational settings.
“At this point in the pandemic, we are all very familiar with the public health advice that will continue to keep us safe, both in school and as we take part in all of the other hobbies and activities that are available to us.
“Vaccination remains our best means of protection against COVID-19. The vaccines available in Ireland are very safe and effective against COVID-19. If vaccination is available to you, then I strongly encourage you to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible.
“Continue to regularly wash hands, wear a mask when appropriate – particularly in retail settings, on public transport and in healthcare settings; keep your distance, open windows and ventilate indoor spaces.
“The most important action to take is – if you display symptoms of COVID-19 like cough, fever, fatigue, headache, or sore throat – isolate and contact your GP who will advise if you need to arrange a test.”