DUBLIN, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- The Irish government on Wednesday announced a number of changes to its existing rules regarding the isolation and testing for COVID-19 cases and close contacts.
Under the new rules, the self-isolation period for a person who has COVID-19 will be shortened to seven days from the past 10 days.
Close contacts of a confirmed case, who have received their booster vaccine, will no longer need to self-isolate for five days if they have no symptoms, but they are advised to wear a medical or high-grade mask and to take regular antigen tests.
Close contacts who have not been inoculated with booster vaccine will have to self-isolate for seven days.
People aged from four to 39, who have tested positive on an antigen test, will no longer have to confirm the result with a PCR test.
The new rules will come into effect from Friday, said the government in a statement.
"Today's announcement ... will help to alleviate the extreme pressure on our healthcare service and other functions in society, including essential services," said Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly in the statement.
Earlier last week, Paul Reid, head of the Health Service Executive (HSE), a state agency responsible for the public health service in Ireland, said that an estimated 8,500 healthcare workers in the country's public health sector were currently out of work either because they had been infected with COVID-19 or because they were COVID-19 close contacts.
The easing of the COVID-19 isolation rules comes at a time when the daily COVID-19 cases in Ireland have averaged nearly 20,000 since the beginning of this year, a high level that has never been seen in the previous waves of the pandemic.
The Irish Department of Health on Wednesday reported 20,909 new cases, bringing the national tally to over 1.04 million. This means nearly one out of five people in Ireland has been infected with the virus.
To date, a total of 6,035 people in Ireland have died from COVID-19, according to the department.