I propose to take Questions Nos. 357 and 375 together.
The role of testing and contact tracing, as part of the wider public health response, has been under ongoing review throughout the pandemic and will continue to be reviewed and amended in line with the epidemiological profile of the disease, its impact on healthcare utilisation and outcomes, and the vaccination status of the population.
In line with recommendations from the National Public Health Emergency Team, it was agreed that from September 27th 2021, automatic contact tracing of asymptomatic close contacts in children aged over 3 months and less than 13 years, in Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School Age Childcare (SAC) facilities, primary education and social and sporting groups was no longer recommended.
The recommendations which have come into effect are based on what has been learned throughout the pandemic, primarily
- Children seem more likely than adults to have no symptoms or to have mild disease
- Investigation of cases identified in school settings suggests that child to child transmission in schools is uncommon and not the primary cause of Sars-CoV-2 infection in children, particularly in pre-school and primary educational settings
- Children are rarely identified as the route of transmission of infection into the household setting
- Children are not more likely than adults to spread infection to other people.
As case numbers increase in younger age groups, the situation in our schools continues to be monitored closely in consultation with the Department of Education. I am reviewing all available options for the further protection of children in our schools.
It is important to reiterate that the public health advice remains that any child aged 12yrs or under who displays symptoms consistent with COVID-19 should rapidly self-isolate and not attend school or socialise until 48 hours after they are symptom free.
Further information is available in the Guidance for COVID-19 Contact Tracing for Children (>3 months to under 13 years of age) published by the Health Protection and Surveillance Centre, available at www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/guidance/educationguidance/Contact%20tracing%20under%2013s.pdf