HSE to implement changes to testing and contact tracing for children aged over 3 months to under 13 years

HSE Press Release: Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Following recent guidance from the National Public Health Emergency Team, the HSE has today announced changes to the existing testing and contact tracing protocol for children aged between 3 months and 13 years. From Monday 27th of September, routine contact tracing of asymptomatic close contacts among children in settings such as childcare facilities, primary education and social and sporting groups will no longer take place.  

Public Health advice remains the same for any child aged over 3 months and less than 13 years of age with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 - they should immediately self-isolate, they should not attend childcare, school or socialise, and they should get a COVID-19 test.

Commenting, Dr. John Cuddihy, National Clinical Director of Health Protection said, “Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have learned that children are more likely than adults to have no symptoms or to have mild disease. Investigation of cases identified in school settings suggest that child to child transmission in schools is uncommon and not the primary cause of Sars-CoV-2 infection in children, particularly in preschool and primary schools. Children are rarely identified as the route of transmission of infection in to the household setting and children are not more likely than adults to spread infection to others”.

“This change will mean that children who do not have symptoms of COVID-19 and who are in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the settings outlined above, will not have to restrict their movements and will not need to be tested for COVID-19. Children in this age group who are a close contact of a case of COVID 19 in a household setting will still be required to restrict their movements and get a COVID 19 test. A child under 13 who is not fully vaccinated, will be considered a household contact if they were present overnight in a house or residential setting while a person with COVID-19 was infectious in that house”.

“If there are particular outbreaks of concern in childcare, educational facilities or any other social or sporting settings, children may be still designated and managed as close contacts by Public Health doctors, who will carry out a Public Health risk assessment (PHRA). It is important to note that all infection, prevention, control and mitigation measures, as currently recommended for childcare facilities, schools and sporting / social groups remain in place”.

“Cases and outbreaks in Special Educational Needs (SEN) settings, respite care or residential settings and similar, will still require a Public Health Risk Assessment”.

Dr. Abigail Collins, National Public Health Clinical Lead for Child Health added, “From the 27th of September, testing for COVID-19 in children aged over 3 months and less than 13 years of age will focus on clinically relevant symptomatic disease. Parents who are concerned that their children may have symptoms of COVID-19 should immediately ensure their child self-isolates and they should phone their GP for advice and guidance, and COVID-19 testing if clinically appropriate”.

“This change is being implemented because of the wide-spread uptake of COVID-19 vaccination in Ireland among those aged 12 years and older. Although precautions to prevent introduction and spread of the virus are still required, vaccines have proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the risk of severe disease and or hospitalisation”.

“We are extremely conscious of the impact that periods of absence from school have on children’s educational, social and emotional well-being. This change will mean that children will now not be automatically required to restrict their movements if they are a close contact of a case of COVID-19 in any setting other than a household, once they do not have any symptoms. It is a positive change for children, while still enabling rapid access to testing for children who require it clinically”.

“Public Health teams will continue to provide support to schools should it be required and testing will remain available more broadly to children should it be required on public health or clinical grounds or following a Public Health Risk Assessment”.


Last updated on: 22 / 09 / 2021