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staff shortage Plans to cut isolation time as rise in Covid cases hits workforces

  • There is a push within Government to reduce the current seven-day isolation period to ease pressure on employers.
  • Easing the rules would free up the more than 5,000 healthcare workers who are currently on leave due to the virus

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Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan told the Government there is no need to re-introduce restrictions. Photo: Colin Keegan

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan told the Government there is no need to re-introduce restrictions. Photo: Colin Keegan

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan told the Government there is no need to re-introduce restrictions. Photo: Colin Keegan

The isolation period for people who contracted Covid-19 may be reduced under plans being considered by Government.

There are serious concerns about the impact of the current seven-day isolation period on both public and private workforces.

Despite rising transmission of Covid, the Government is examining whether the isolation period could be reduced to allow employees to return to work sooner after infection.

The discussions follow concerns raised by unions and businesses about staff shortages as a new wave of Covid sweeps the country.

It comes as a new group to oversee the pandemic is being developed. The group, which will replace the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), will issue advice to the Government on how to react to the virus.

It will have up to 12 members, including public officials such as chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.

The exact make-up of the group is yet to be announced, but Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said it would be unveiled “imminently”.

However, there is a push within Government to reduce the current seven-day isolation period to ease pressure on employers.

Easing the rules would free up the more than 5,000 healthcare workers who are currently on leave due to the virus.

In the US, the isolation period for Covid-19 patients with no symptoms was reduced to five days last December.

Advice from the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) said asymptomatic patients could end their isolation after five days, but stipulated they must wear a mask around others for the next five days.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin was forced to miss his St Patrick’s Day meeting in the White House with President Joe Biden due to a positive Covid test.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has also tested positive for Covid this week. Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is isolating after experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Dr Holohan has told the Government there is no need to re-introduce restrictions, including the mask mandate, even though infection levels have spiked.

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It comes as the HSE has advised overwhelmed hospitals – with record attendances of patients with non-Covid illnesses at emergency departments – to suspend elective care and focus on urgent time-critical patients.

It means that thousands of patients on waiting lists will have their procedures cancelled again over the coming week.

Ann O’Connor, chief operations officer in the HSE, said yesterday that in hospitals such as University Hospital Kerry, one-third of beds were being taken up with Covid-19 patients.

A reduction in the isolation period for positive patients in hospital would help reduce some pressure and free-up beds earlier.

The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital rose to 1,425 yesterday. Of these, 53 are in intensive care, a drop of two in a day.

A further 23,125 cases were reported yesterday, including 14,215 who had a positive antigen test.

Beaumont Hospital infectious disease consultant Eoghan de Barra said yesterday that more than half of the patients with Covid-19 were there for another illness and had had a positive test but were not symptomatic.

“It is a positive thing but the downside is the sheer weight of numbers and the journey onwards for these patients. It is impacted by the fact they have this virus in their system.”

He said it may be time to manage those patients who had a positive test and symptoms of Covid-19 differently from those who did not have symptoms.

Patients with the virus with no symptoms may have their care for another illness affected even though Covid-19 was not troubling them, he added.

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