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Explainer

New Covid testing and isolation guidelines: Here's everything you need to know

The changes are aimed at freeing up Covid-19 testing capacity and easing disruption to businesses.

THE DEPARTMENT OF Health has updated its guidelines about PCR testing and self-isolation on foot of advice from the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan.

The changes are aimed at freeing up Covid-19 testing capacity and easing disruption to businesses and essential services caused by large numbers of people becoming infected with the virus.

Public health officials yesterday confirmed an additional 20,554 cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.

This figure marks the fourth time this week that a new daily record was set. However, it is likely to be an underestimate and Holohan today said the actual figure could be closer to 30,000 cases.

So, what exactly are the updated guidelines?

Advice on PCR and antigen testing

Current advice is that all those with symptoms of Covid-19 should self-isolate and seek a PCR test.

A statement from Department of Health notes the following: “In view of the very large volumes of disease now being experienced and, to ensure best use of available testing capacity to ensure rapid identification of Covid-19 infection, and, to support adherence to the public health advice”:

  • Symptomatic individuals aged four to 39 years should self-isolate immediately and undertake regular antigen tests rather than booking a PCR test
  • Anyone with an antigen test which detects Covid-19 should seek a confirmatory PCR test
  • Those with repeated ‘not detected’ antigen tests should continue to self-isolate until 48 hours after their symptoms have resolved
  • Symptomatic healthcare workers should continue to seek a PCR test
  • Anyone with an underlying condition which puts them at higher risk of severe disease or anyone who has a clinical concern should contact their GP
  • All other symptomatic individuals (those aged up to three years and those aged older than 40 years) should seek a PCR test as soon as they display symptoms of Covid-19

Isolation period for those diagnosed with Covid-19

Current guidance in relation to self-isolation advises that adults who receive a positive PCR test result for Covid-19 should self-isolate for 10 days from commencement of symptoms (or date of PCR test, if asymptomatic).

This advice has now changed to allow for those who have been boosted, either through receipt of three vaccine doses or through a combination of primary vaccination and recent infection, and those who have not, as follows:

  • Those aged 13 years and older who are at least seven days post booster vaccination or those who have completed their primary vaccination course and have had Covid-19 infection within the previous three months, should self-isolate for a minimum of seven days from commencement of symptoms (or date of first positive test if asymptomatic) with exit after seven days only if symptoms have substantially or fully resolved for the final two of those seven days
  • Those exiting isolation after seven days (from days eight to 10 post onset of symptoms) should:
  • Limit to the greatest extent possible close contact with other people outside their household, especially in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces
  • Wear a face mask in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces and where they are in close contact with other people
  • Take an antigen test before entering crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces and prior to having close contact with other people from outside their household
  • Avoid contact with anyone who is at higher risk of severe illness if infected with Covid-19
  • Work from home unless it is essential to attend in person
  • Adhere to all other basic public health protective measures.

All others aged 13 years and older who receive a positive PCR test result should continue to self-isolate for 10 days from commencement of symptoms with exit after 10 days only if symptoms have substantially or fully resolved for the final two of those 10 days.

Current isolation requirements for young children (those aged up to and including 12 years) diagnosed with Covid-19 will continue in place.

If your child is told to isolate they need to:

  • stay at home
  • avoid contact with other people

However, the HSE has noted: “It’s not possible to ask young children to isolate on their own. They will need an adult to look after them.”

Speaking yesterday evening, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said: “Antigen testing for those aged four to 39 years, who do not have an underlying condition will be provided using the model currently in place within the HSE – home delivery from a central distribution point.

“The HSE has advised that arrangements to provide for distribution of antigen tests can be operationalised from next Monday 3 January 2022.

“In the meantime, if antigen tests are available to you and you display symptoms of Covid-19, you can use antigen tests as directed as an alternative to PCR testing. As always, if you have any clinical concerns, at any time, please contact your GP.”

Minister Donnelly added that disease incidence has “continued to rapidly increase in Ireland, with recent daily case counts substantially exceeding the highest previously reported in the pandemic to date”.

“The 14-day incidence is now estimated at over 2,300 per 100,000 population. We are seeing levels of new daily cases in hospital that we have not seen since last January. The latest data on S-gene target failure data indicates that approximately 92% of cases are due to the Omicron variant.

““While our booster rollout programme is going extremely well, the extent to which the epidemic is continuing to accelerate means that there is still significant concern regarding the likely impact of such high case counts on our health services.”

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