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Close contact guidance for children aged 12 and under changes today - here are the new rules

Asymptomatic children who become close contacts in school will no longer have to restrict their movements.

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FROM TODAY, CHILDREN who are close contacts of a person with Covid-19 in school will no longer have to restrict their movements if they don’t have symptoms. 

The new guidance was agreed after discussions with NPHET and detailed were released by the Department of Health last week.

Under the new rules:

  • Children aged 12 and under who are identified as close contacts in childcare, education or special education settings no longer need to restrict their movements and stay out of school, unless informed by a local public health team
  • Automatic contact tracing and testing of asymptomatic close contacts in childcare facilities and primary education will cease
  • Children who become close contacts as a result of a member of their household testing positive for the disease will still have to restrict their movements and be tested for the disease.

Existing rules around testing asymptomatic children who are close contacts and contact tracing will still apply for special education facilities. 

Any student showing symptoms of Covid-19 – whether they are a close contact or not – is still advised to stay home from school and contact their GP.

Common symptoms of Covid-19 include fever, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath or loss/change to sense of smell or taste. 

The public health advice remains that any child showing Covid symptoms should self-isolate and not attend school or socialise until 48 hours after their symptoms end.

‘Low-risk environment’

Health officials have repeatedly stressed that schools are safe environments, with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly saying they “continue to be a low-risk environment”. 

Professor Philip Nolan, chair of NPHET’s epidemiological modelling advisory group, said there is “no evidence that the reopening of schools has led to an increase in transmission or levels of infection amongst school-going children or more widely across the population”. 

He said results from testing show there was a three- to four-fold increase in the number of children referred for testing recently, but that incidence rates have remained stable over the last 10 days. 

Officials at the Department of Education had a meeting with unions on Thursday in relation to the relaxation of the close contact rules. 

A department spokesperson said officials “worked through the implications for schools in managing” the changes. 

“Dr Kevin Kelleher, public health HSE, was in attendance to answer any questions that they had regarding public health arrangements and the new policy,” the spokesperson said. 

General Secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) John Boyle had said he was “absolutely flabbergasted” by the decision.

Speaking to Newstalk last week, Boyle said the government is removing a “safety net” from schools.

“Whatever supports were there for schools last year have been stripped out and this [ceasing automatic contact tracing] is a further measure that we felt should not even be entertained until after mid-term break,” Boyle said.

 However, Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said that the move was “really welcome” and made “weeks too late”.

He said principals have contacted him “totally exasperated at the lack of the support from the HSE”.

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Extra resources were put into public health teams earlier this month after school principals said they were under “considerable pressure” waiting for advice on dealing with Covid-19 cases.

“Thousands of children have been losing out on school days unnecessarily for weeks,” Ó Ríordáin said in a statement.

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