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Monday 4 December 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Sam Boal Professor Breda Smyth officially took up the interim CMO role this week.
breda smyth

People with Covid symptoms must self-isolate but most don’t need a test, interim CMO explains

Testing is now being targeted at medically vulnerable people.

PEOPLE WITH SYMPTOMS of Covid-19 should self-isolate until 48 hours after their symptoms are gone – but most don’t need to get a coronavirus test to confirm infection.

Interim Chief Medical Officer Professor Breda Smyth outlined the current guidelines at a press conference today, explaining that they are based on the virus being widespread in the community.

This has been the advice in recent months and was reiterated today by Prof Smyth. 

Guidelines currently state that those who test positive for Covid-19 should isolate for seven days. However, the interim CMO reminded people that testing isn’t always necessary.

Instead people with Covid symptoms should stay at home until approximately 48-hours after their symptoms have cleared.

Smyth, who officially took up the interim CMO position yesterday, said that isolation is more important than testing for slowing the spread of the illness.

HSE Covid tests are targeted at people with underlying health conditions and those aged over-55 who are not fully vaccinated. 

Symth outlined that the changed approach in the past few months is because Ireland is in a mitigation phase in its efforts to stem the spread of the virus, which is now endemic. With the virus widespread, it’s no longer necessary to try and identify every single case.

“We are in a situation of mitigation. And I think it’s really important that the public also understands this: We’re no longer in the state of containment,” she said.

“We’re in a situation of mitigation, where the population has very high protection through the vaccination programme. Because of that, it’s really the more vulnerable that we want to protect now in our population.

“That’s why we are in the stage which is called endemic, we’re in a state of endemicity in the population, where the virus is widespread. That’s why it’s not important to identify every single case, it may be for our own personal knowledge, but it’s not essential from a control and management perspective to identify every single case.

That’s why it’s not necessary for everybody to take an antigen test. But I understand if people like to do so, that’s personal choice, and they’re available freely for people to do so.

Antigen testing

Professor Smyth said that a person with no symptoms who tests positive on an antigen test is still being told to self-isolate for seven days but someone who has no symptoms and doesn’t take a test would not have to isolate.

“If you have a positive Covid test, you have to follow the guidelines with regards to a positive Covid test. If you don’t have a positive Covid test then you can go about your business. They are the current recommendations,” Smyth said.

The public health professor explained that this is because symptomatic people transmit the virus significantly more rapidly than people who do not have symptoms.

“Asymptomatic people are a lot less infectious, but currently if you have a positive test – if you go ahead and take a test even though you’re not recommended to take a test – you have to follow the guidelines as a Covid positive person,” she said.

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