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Cabinet expected to sign off on scrapping of isolation for close contacts with no symptoms

Minister Catherine Martin will also bring a memo seeking to publish the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.

CABINET IS EXPECTED to sign off on the scrapping of isolation periods for close contacts with no symptoms who have received their booster jab.

Public health advice received by government last night also recommends that people who test positive on an antigen test should not need a confirmatory PCR test. 

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said yesterday evening that he has also received a recommendation that all isolation periods for those with symptoms and are testing positive will be brought to seven days across the board.

Speaking to Newstalk’s Hard Shoulder yesterday, the health minister said the recommendation that confirmatory a PCR test would be removed for those testing positive on antigen is “very positive” .

“It makes it easier for people, they don’t have to go and get a second test, and it frees up some of the pressure on the PCR system as well because obviously we want people to be able to get those PCR tests as quickly as possible. So that’s the first main major change,” he said. 

People will be able to log their positive antigen test on a new online system which will be  integrated into the contact tracing system, said the minister. He said this could result in a large surge of cases being notified daily. 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he would welcome the relaxation of the isolation rules. 

“There does come a point sometimes with public health advice, you have to get the balance right and sometimes, advice and regulations can do more harm than good. That’s why I think that they should be eased. But we’re very much relying on the CMO to make sure that we do it in a way that is safe and doesn’t cause the virus to spread more rapidly.

“What I’d anticipate is they’ll probably make some recommendations around people who are fully vaccinated and boosted and that’ll be in line with what the ECDC has recommended at the weekend,” Varadkar told Newstalk yesterday.

“I think for people who are boosted and have had the third dose, who don’t have symptoms and have a negative antigen test, it would make sense for us to allow them to go back to work and get on with their normal lives,” he said.

There is a need for Ireland to begin to ease up on restrictions as the Omicron wave dissipates, he added. However, he also indicated that any lifting of restrictions will be done on a phased basis throughout February.

Donnelly agreed, stating: “I hope we get back to normal life very soon.”

Once the threat of Omicron subsides, “we need to be getting back”. 

Online Safety Commissioner

Separately, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin will bring a memo to government seeking to publish the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill as well as establish the Media Commission and start recruiting for an Online Safety Commissioner.

The publication of the legislation will begin the process for a new watchdog for the first time to regulate online services and to reduce the availability of harmful content.

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Government will be asked to approve the commencement of the recruitment of an Online Safety Commissioner, who will act as a regulator to enforce accountability in the sector.

The Online Safety Commissioner will be tasked with overseeing the regulatory framework for online safety and will devise binding online safety codes setting out how regulated online services, including certain social media services, are expected to deal with defined categories of harmful online content on their platforms.

The categories of harmful online content include criminal material, serious cyber-bullying material and material promoting self-harm, suicide and eating disorders.

The Online Safety Commissioner will have a range of powers to ensure compliance, including the power to require the provision of information and to appoint authorised officers to conduct investigations.

In the event of a failure to comply with a relevant online safety code, and subject to court approval, the Media Commission will have the power to sanction non-compliant online services, including through financial sanctions of up to €20 million or 10% of turnover.

The Bill will also establish a new body, a multi-person Media Commission which will include the Online Safety Commissioner.

This new body will be responsible for overseeing updated regulations for broadcasting and video on-demand services and the new regulatory framework for online safety created by the Bill.

The Media Commission will take on the current functions of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and regulate both television and radio broadcasters. The Commission will also be responsible for the regulation of video on-demand services, with new regulations to be set out in media codes and rules, which will address issues such as programme standards, advertising, sponsorship, product placement, accessibility and other matters.

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