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Health officials expect self-isolation criteria for children could be changed 'in the near term'

Dr Tony Holohan said that while there has been an increase in testing in younger age groups, positivity has dropped.

Image: Leon Farrell

THE CHIEF MEDICAL Officer has said health officials expect to soon be in a position to change self-isolation criteria for schoolchildren who are close contacts of confirmed Covid cases.

Around 12,000 children across the country are currently self-isolating and there have been calls for rules to be relaxed to prevent students who are close contacts from having to miss school.

Dr Tony Holohan, appearing before the Oireachtas Health Committee this morning, said his “hope and expectation” is that within a short period of time the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will be in a position to issue new advice in this area.

He said this will be done once officials have had enough time to monitor the impact of the resumption of the school year on potential transmission.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in testing, that level of increase in testing has outstripped the increase in incidence – so in other words the positivity has dropped,” he told the committee.

“What we’ve seen in terms of that increase in incidence, particularly the five to 12-year-olds, is explained by the very huge volume of additional testing has been done in that age group.

It’s not a true underlying change the incidence of the disease in those age groups, it’s a very important observation. We want to maintain that observation for sufficient time – which we think is not much more – to allow us to say we’re in a position to change to a different form of management of disease, not just in respect of schoolchildren, but in respect of testing and contact tracing for the whole of society.

Dr Holohan said NPHET wants to change those arrangements but primary-aged children have only been back in school for around two weeks and officials want to ensure they have allowed sufficient observation time before making a decision.

“We’re not that far away from being able to have that certainty, if it’s there, and we remain hopeful that we’d be in a position to change that in the near term, not just for school children, but in terms of testing, contact tracing and the wider public health management for society as a whole.”

In his opening statement, the CMO said the reintroduction of Covid-19 measures “cannot be fully ruled out” in the future due to the uncertain nature of the virus.

However he later clarified that he does not believe significant restrictions will have to be re-imposed on the Irish population.

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“In broad terms we’re optimistic about the trajectory of the disease at this point in time, and the likelihood that over the course of the coming weeks, the important criteria that we set out in our last advice to government that need to be satisfied before we think we’re able to move on from the range of measures that are still in place being eased, we think we’re a very short number of weeks away from that,” he said.

He said officials have not seen anything emerging globally to concern them in relation to new variants. Dr Holohan explained that the highly-transmissible Delta variant appears to have suppressed the spread of many of the other variants that vaccines were not as effective against.

He said it is still his view that the country is on track to reach the criteria needed to lift the majority of restrictions on 22 October.

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