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If you have a negative Covid-19 test, does that mean you don't have to restrict your movements?

It depends on why you got tested: after travelling back from Ireland, or Covid-19 symptoms.

Image: Sam Boal

IN EU TRADE Commissioner Phil Hogan’s lengthy statement about his movements in Ireland before and after the golfgate controversy, he refers to ending his 14-day quarantine period early after receiving a negative Covid-19 test.

A number of questions have been levelled at the Commissioner around whether he left Co Kildare when it was in lockdown, whether he was driving and using his phone when in Kildare on one occasion – and whether he broke the 14-day quarantine required as part of public health guidance for anyone landing in Ireland.

The 14-day guidance for those who land in Ireland is to ‘restrict their movements’ for 14 days after landing isn’t a law, but is a key part of Ireland’s public health guidance.

Restricting your movements means “staying at home and only going out for essential supplies and for exercise,” according to the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. The HSE website states: “Restricting your movements means staying at home and avoiding contact with other people and social situations as much as possible.”

In Hogan’s statement, he says that he arrived in Ireland on 31 July, but received a negative Covid-19 test result while in hospital for a procedure.

Hogan states that this meant he no longer had to restrict his movements:

I subsequently was admitted to hospital for a medical intervention on 5 August where I tested negatively for Covid-19. As I had received a negative Covid-19 test while in hospital, I was not under any subsequent legal requirement to self-isolate or quarantine.

The advice he cites as evidence of this approach is from Citizens Information

Test results
If you have tested negative for Covid-19, you will receive your results by text message. You do not have to self-isolate any longer.

In response to the EU Commissioner’s interview with RTÉ, Citizens Information released the following statement clarifying its advice to citizens:

Our webpage on Testing for Covid-19 covers information for people in Ireland who may need to be tested for Covid-19. In this page, we refer to self-isolating and no longer requiring to self-isolate in the context of people who have been tested on the advice of the HSE, and does not apply to people who must restrict their movements for 14 days upon entry to the State.
Our webpages on Returning to Ireland and Covid-19 and Covid-19: Travel overview  cover information for people returning to Ireland from abroad and what they need to do. Our webpage on Restricted movement and self-isolation for Covid-19 covers the differences between self-isolation and restricting movements in detail.

What the HSE says

The HSE has said repeatedly since this statement was released that the 14-day quarantine period still stands for those who travel into Ireland, regardless of a negative Covid-19 test result:

You will need to restrict your movements for 14 days if you: are a close contact of a confirmed case of coronavirus; live with someone who has symptoms of coronavirus, but you feel well; arrive into Ireland from a country that is not on the Covid-19 green list.
You are still asked to restrict movements for 14 days because it can take up to 14 days for the virus to show up in your system after you have been exposed to it.

What’s the reasons for the discrepancy between Citizens Information and the HSE’s advice? 

The Citizens Information advice is in relation to those who have Covid-19 symptoms and sought a test, where one test would be enough to ensure that they do not have the virus. 

But the advice is different if you have travelled back to Ireland and have had one Covid-19 test done. A negative test result is not enough to end the 14-day restriction, as the Department of Health said in a statement to TheJournal.ie

HSE guidance states that when someone is restricting their movements because they are a close contact of a confirmed case or because they have travelled into Ireland from a non-green-list country, they are recommended do so for 14 days. The HSE guidance does not state that a negative (not detected) Covid-19 test shortens the 14 day restricted movement requirement.

“Passengers arriving to Ireland from overseas are legally required to complete a COVID-19 Passenger Locator Form. The form may be used for the purpose of contact tracing in the event that there is a suspected or confirmed case on board a flight or ferry.
The government’s full advice on travel in the context of Covid-19 is published [here].”

The HSE website explains why one negative test is not enough, in this advice for those who are close contacts of confirmed cases: “You will have a second test even if your first test is negative. This is because it can take up to 14 days for the virus to show up in your system after you have been exposed to it.

You will need to continue to restrict your movements, even if your first test was negative.

As explained in this Q&A, it is not mandatory for those landing in Ireland to quarantine for 14 days. It is also not mandatory for them to restrict their movements, but authorities have asked them to do so.

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It is mandatory for them to fill out a passenger locator form, and to tell authorities if they change their accommodation.

- with reporting from Christina Finn

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