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HSE updates online advice for boosted close contacts, detailing additional restrictions

Although close contacts in this situation are no longer required to restrict their movements, they are advised to follow a number of other measures to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Wearing a high-grade mask is one of the existing requirements for boosted close contacts.
Wearing a high-grade mask is one of the existing requirements for boosted close contacts.
Image: Shutterstock

THE HSE HAS updated its online advice for close contacts of confirmed Covid-19 cases who received a booster vaccine to fall in line with what was advised by public health experts last month.

The advice also applies to people with a confirmed Covid infection since 1 December.

The discrepancy was previously highlighted by The Journal’s coronavirus newsletter.

 Since 14 January, when major changes to the rules were introduced, boosted close contacts have not been required to fully restrict their movements (defined, essentially, as staying at home and not meeting with others).

Before the rules were changed public health officials on NPHET noted in a letter to the government that this advice was underpinned with a requirement to act with caution in a number of specified settings.

However, authorities faced criticism for not placing more of a focus on this fine print, including that most of this additional advice was omitted from the HSE.ie close contacts advice section, except a requirement to use antigen tests and wear a high-grade mask.

Immunologist Professor Christine Loscher told The Journal’s coronavirus newsletter last month there had been a ‘real dropping of the ball’.

She said a focus on not having to restrict your movements draws attention away from the fact that some level of careful behaviour is required.

The advice was contained in a letter to government from the chief medical officer on 11 January, was accepted by the Minister for Health and came into effect three days later.

The letter stated although there was no need to restrict movements fully, boosted close contacts should: 

  • limit close contact with other people outside their household, especially in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces
  • wear an appropriate face mask/face covering in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces and where they are in close contact with other people
  • take an antigen test before entering crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces and prior to having close contact with other people from outside their household
  • avoid contact with anyone who is at higher risk of severe illness if infected with Covid-19
  • work from home unless it is essential to attend in person
  • follow all public health protective measures.

However, until at least 28 January, HSE.ie included just the advice to wear a high-grade mask for 10 days and the existing requirement to take three antigen tests over seven days.

Screenshot 2022-02-10 at 16.39.44 A screenshot of the HSE website, dated 28 January. Source: HSE

Since then, the HSE website has been updated to include a ‘protect others’ section, advising boosted close contacts – as well as close contacts who had a confirmed Covid infection since 1 December -  to:

  • limit close contact with other people outside your household – especially in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces
  • avoid contact with anyone who is at higher risk of severe illness
  • work from home unless it is essential to attend in person
  • follow all public health measures to protect others

In addition to the three required antigen tests over seven days, it also advised the boosted close contacts to take a self-test test before:

  • entering crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces
  • having close contact with other people from outside their household.

Anyone with a recent confirmed infection is not currently required to take an antigen test in these situations.

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Screenshot 2022-02-10 at 16.42.50 A screenshot of the HSE website, dated 10 February. Source: HSE

Close contacts in other situations are still required to restrict their movements.

The HSE press office previously said that ‘all the required measures are outlined on the HSE website, which is continuously updated in response to policy changes and public feedback’.

At the time of writing, the advice for close contacts to work from home does not appear on gov.ie, despite appearing in both the chief medical officer’s letter and now on HSE.ie.

The current advice is due to remain in place until at least 28 February.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) are set to meet on 17 February to discuss mask guidelines.

The HSE’s chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said he doesn’t forsee any changes in guidelines over the coming weeks.

About the author:

Nicky Ryan

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