Frequently Asked Questions
The Government's Framework of Restrictions will always take precedence over any HPSC guidance, with regard to which level of restriction is in your county.
Unless specified these questions and answers do not apply to variants of concern (VOC). See here for VOC guidance.
General information about COVID-19
Q. How does COVID-19 spread?
The virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) can spread from person to person through respiratory droplets - small droplets from the nose or mouth of a person infected with the virus. These droplets are produced when a person coughs, sneezes or exhales. People can catch the virus either:
- directly, by breathing in the droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes or
- indirectly, by touching surfaces (e.g. table, door handle) that an infected person has coughed or sneezed on and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.
The virus cannot grow on surfaces but it can survive if they are not cleaned. Regular cleaning of frequently–touched hard surfaces and of hands will therefore help to reduce the risk of infection. The use of a neutral /normal household detergent for the cleaning of surfaces in general should be sufficient. Once a person with suspected COVID-19 is identified, all surfaces that the person has been in contact with should be cleaned and disinfected. General cleaning guidance for non-healthcare settings is available here.
It is important to always stay at least 2 metres from others, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze using a tissue or the inside of your elbow, dispose of the tissue after use and clean hands regularly. In areas where it is difficult to maintain a distance of 2 metres from others, it is important to wear a cloth face covering or mask to protect both yourself and others. It is better to use a cloth face covering or mask rather than a visor; more information is available here. It is important to follow Government advice regarding when and where face coverings should be worn. More information on the use of face coverings can be found here. There are recommendations regarding which members of the public should wear surgical face masks. See question “What members of the general public should wear a surgical face mask and in which situations?”
Current information suggests that infected people can transmit the virus both when they are symptomatic (showing symptoms) and asymptomatic (showing no symptoms). This is why it is essential that anyone who is showing symptoms (even if vaccinated) suggestive of COVID-19 self-isolates, and anyone who has been in close contact with a confirmed case restricts their movements. There are certain scenarios where close contacts do not need to restrict movements or be tested, see here for more information.
It is recommended surgical masks be worn by anyone with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis (during their infectious period), by anyone who has symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 and household contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Please note: this advice is different if the contact is with a suspected or confirmed variant of concern (VOC) case – see guidance for VOCs.
Q. Can the virus that causes COVID-19 be spread through the air?
COVID-19 is a new disease, and our understanding of the role of ventilation in the transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) continues to evolve. Current information suggests that the virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly spread through contact with respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or exhales. These droplets are too heavy to hang in the air and can usually only travel short distances (<2metres) due to their size. They then quickly fall on floors or surfaces. You can be infected by breathing in the virus from a person who has COVID-19, or by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands.
Certain medical procedures can produce really tiny droplets, known as aerosols, that are able to stay suspended in the air for longer periods of time and can travel over long distances (>2metres). When these medical procedures are conducted on people who are infected with COVID-19, the aerosols can contain the COVID-19 virus. These aerosols may be inhaled by others if they are not wearing appropriate personal protective equipment. Therefore, it is essential that all health workers performing these procedures take specific airborne protection measures, including wearing personal protective equipment. Visitors should not be permitted in areas where such medical procedures are being performed. The possibility of airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through aerosols (smaller than droplets) in non-healthcare settings is still uncertain. Please see “Guidance on non-healthcare building ventilation during COVID-19” for further information.
Q. Are there certain setting that are especially high risk for spread of COVID-19?
The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has identified situations where COVID-19 is more likely to spread from one person to another. These include being indoors, having high numbers present or crowding, and poor ventilation. Ensuring adequate and appropriate ventilation may reduce some of this risk. Spread is also more likely if cloth face coverings or masks are not being used properly, and if those present are singing or shouting. Superspreading has been seen in religious settings, as well as in other locations such as restaurants, clubs and gyms.
Q. What is the incubation period for COVID-19?
The incubation period is the time between infection (exposure to the virus) and the onset of symptoms of disease (e.g. cough, fever, shortness of breath, loss or alteration of taste, loss of sense of smell). The incubation period for COVID-19 is on average 5-6 days, however, it can be up to 14 days. It is now known that during the incubation period, those infected can spread the virus to other people. Transmission of the virus before any symptoms (pre-symptomatic) can occur. This transmission can happen 1-3 days before onset of symptoms. See here, for the HIQA evidence summary on the incubation period of COVID 19.
Q. How long can COVID-19 virus live on surfaces?
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, less than 4 hours on copper and less than 24 hours on cardboard. As the virus has the ability to live on surfaces, it is important to regularly clean areas that may become infected, particularly in areas with high footfall, e.g. reception areas and objects with high touch surfaces e.g. tea/coffee machines, handles of doors, vending machines. Regular cleaning of frequently–touched hard surfaces and of hands will therefore help to reduce the risk of infection. The use of a neutral /normal household detergent for the cleaning of surfaces in general should be sufficient.
Testing, restricting movements and self-isolating
Unless specified these questions and answers do not apply to variants of concern (VOC). See here for VOC guidance.
Q. Should I get tested? How will I be tested? How do I receive results? Where can I view a video of the testing procedure?
Please see HSE website here for further information on testing. Videos of the testing process are available here.
Q. What is the difference between restricted movements and self-isolation?
Restricted movements for close contacts means avoiding contact with other people and social situations as much as possible by staying home. It is also sometimes called ‘quarantine’. It means that you stay at home and:
- Do not go to work
- Do not use public transport
- Do not have visitors in your home
- Do not go to the shops or pharmacy, unless absolutely necessary
- Keep away from older people, anyone with an underlying medical condition and pregnant women
Further information on what practical measures should be implemented when restricting your movements can be found here.
When to restrict movements:
- When you are a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case (Please see here for exceptions). You will need to restrict your movements until after you get the result of your Day 10 COVID-19 test as “not detected” or negative and you remain without symptoms. If for some reason you do not have a COVID-19 test, for example you decline the test, you need to restrict your movement for 14 days.
- If someone you live with has symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and is awaiting a test result.
- When you return from certain regions or countries. Please note the advice is different for those returning from designated States see below.
- When advised by a Health Care Professional.
Self-isolation for those with COVID-19 means staying on your own in a room at home and completely avoiding contact with all other people, including other people in your household, so that the infection is less likely to spread within the household. More information on what practical measures should be implemented when self-isolating can be found here.
When to self-isolate:
- When advised by a Health Care Professional.
- If you have symptoms of COVID-19, even if vaccinated.
- While awaiting the result of your COVID-19 test, if symptomatic. There are some situations when a result is pending that a person will be requested to restrict their movements, instead of self-isolate (e.g. when you are a close contact). Please see above.
- If you have had a positive COVID-19 test result, regardless of whether you had symptoms or not. This applies to those who are vaccinated too.
- When you return from a designated State. Those returning from designated States are subject to mandatory hotel quarantine, limited exemptions apply. Please see here for more information.
Q. For how long do I need to self-isolate if I am a case or restrict my movements if I am a contact?
Please see the following links for further information on self-isolation and restricted movements. There are certain scenarios where close contacts do not need to self-isolate or restrict movements, see here. If you are a close contact it is important you follow the instruction of the contact tracer.
Q. What happens if I am a close contact of a case of COVID-19 and I develop symptoms?
If you develop symptoms, even if vaccinated, you need to change from restricting your movements to self-isolating. Anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 is recommended to wear a surgical mask. Please see the links for further information on what to do if you develop symptoms of COVID-19 and for the difference between self-isolating and restricting movements .
Q. Can I get an antibody test?
People who are otherwise well do not need to have an antibody test, as the result will not generally be of benefit to the individual person, and these results are only useful at a population level. If your doctor has concerns about your health and feels that the test is clinically indicated, then they may ask for this test to be carried out on you.
Antibody testing (also known as serology testing) determines whether or not you may have had COVID-19 in the past and have now developed antibodies in response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19). It is a blood test, and is a different test than the one used to diagnose if you currently have COVID-19.
If antibodies are detected in the blood test, it is an indication that the person had an infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus at some time. Currently we consider that if someone has been previously infected with COVID-19 they are likely to have ‘immunity’ for 6 months. If antibodies are not detected, the most likely explanation is that you have never been infected. If you had a mild infection or had no symptoms, the antibody response may be below the level that is detectable with the antibody tests that are used.
Q. Will a medical certificate stating that a person has a ‘not detected’ test result for COVID-19 be OK to use for returning to work?
It is not advised to use medical certificates for returning to work. You should follow the relevant public health guidance. Depending on the circumstances of your absence from work, your employer may ask you to complete a “COVID-19 Return to Work Form”.
Q. Is it necessary to get a letter to confirm that the period for self-isolation or restricted movement has finished?
No, it is not necessary to get a letter to confirm that the period for self-isolation for a positive case, or restricted movement for a close contact, is finished. As noted in the above question, your employer may ask you to complete a “COVID-19 Return to Work Form”.
Who can get COVID-19
Q. Who is most at risk of getting COVID-19?
Anyone can get COVID-19 but some people are at higher risk of getting seriously ill if they get COVID-19. There are two levels of risk: high risk and very high risk. People at high risk include people over 60 and people with underlying medical conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. People at very high risk include people over 70 and people with certain underlying medical conditions, for example people on dialysis or who are having chemotherapy. A list of those at high and very high risk is available on the HSE website, as well as advice on the public health guidelines you should follow if you are in these risk categories. See below question for recommendation regarding surgical masks for certain individuals.
Q. What members of the general public should wear a surgical face mask and in which situations?
There are certain groups of people for whom the use of surgical face masks rather than cloth face coverings is now recommended by NPHET. Surgical masks rather than cloth face coverings are now recommended to be worn by people who are in high risk and very high-risk cohorts and older age groups when in crowded outdoor spaces or confined indoor community spaces. This is as an additional form of protection for the wearer against inhalation of or contact with infectious particles.
In addition, it is recommended that surgical masks be worn by those people with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis during their infectious period, by those people who have symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 and those who are household contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases. This is as a form of barrier to limit potential emission of infectious particles.
These recommendations do not apply to residential care facilities, nursing homes or hospitals as the requirements for these groups of people are addressed in specific guidance for those settings.
Surgical masks are not recommended for use by other members of the public.
Q. Are children a major source of spread of COVID-19?
HIQA (Health Information and Quality Authority) conducted an evidence summary on the transmission of COVID-19 from children. They found some evidence that children are less likely than adults to infect others, and further large-scale studies are recommended to identify what proportion of COVID-19 transmission can be attributed to children.
Q. What if I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?
General information related to COVID-19 for pregnant women can be found here. Information related to vaccination for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding can be found here and here.
Q. Can I catch COVID-19 from an animal?
As a general precaution, it is always wise to observe basic principles of hygiene when in contact with animals. There are many diseases that can spread from animals to humans. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently and thoroughly. People with pets and people who work with animals should engage in usual preventive actions to avoid infection, like hand washing and respiratory hygiene.
COVID-19 is mainly spread from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. However, SARS-CoV-2 can infect several species of animal too. Spread of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to other species and from other species to humans is an area of ongoing research and we are still learning about this virus. Research has also shown that animals such as ferrets and cats can spread SARS-CoV-2 to other animals of the same species in laboratory settings. Currently, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to humans.
Treat pets as you would other human family members – do not let pets interact with people outside the household. If you are sick with COVID-19, you should restrict your interaction with your pet and other animals, as cases of human to animal transmission have been identified. For more information on COVID-19 and animals, visit the Department of Agriculture website here.
Q. What information is currently known about the SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOC)?
A variant means the virus has undergone one or more genetic changes. These changes are also known as mutations. It is a normal occurrence for a virus to change over time. Most of these changes do not have a significant impact on the spread of a virus. However, some mutations can allow a virus to spread easier and/or can reduce vaccine efficacy.
Regarding SARS-CoV-2 there are currently multiple variants (mutations) of concern that have been identified. These variants are important due to increased transmissibility and increased numbers of cases of COVID-19 in the areas where they we initially identified. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control published a risk assessment regarding these variants: “Risk related to the spread of new SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern in the EU/EEA – first update, 21st January 2021”, available here. Investigation into these variants is ongoing, for more information on these variants please see here.
Q. Why is there concern about the SARS-CoV-2 variants found in minks?
Similar to the VOC mentioned above, there has been concern that the variants found in minks could lead to reduced vaccine efficacy. These mink variants were initially identified in the Netherlands and led to a cull animals in mink farms in the Netherlands. As of February 8th 2021, there have been no reported mink infections in Ireland. Please see here for the most up to date information. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has published a Rapid Risk Assessment on this issue (available here).
Q. Are people working in areas such as logistics, control services, retail, couriering, etc. at risk of getting COVID-19 by handling packages? What measures can be taken to reduce the risk of getting infected in these types of work settings?
People working in areas such as logistics, control services, retail, couriering, etc. are not at greater risk of getting COVID-19 as a result of managing packages. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) does not recommend any special measures above those addressed to the general public: frequent and thorough hand washing and use of alcohol-based hand rubs, keeping a distance from other employees and customers, and not working if showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, even if vaccinated.
Q. Does wearing a cloth face covering or mask protect me from getting COVID-19?
There are two main ways in which wearing a face covering provides protection from COVID-19.
- It reduces the risk of coming in contact with COVID-19 droplets as it covers the nose and the mouth, which is how COVID-19 enters the body.
- It also reduces the spread of the virus from someone who is infected to others. This applies to both those who have symptoms and those who do not.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a scientific brief on the use of cloth face coverings in the community. Face covering must be worn correctly to provide protection. Once the covering is on do not touch it unnecessarily. More information on the various types and proper use of face coverings and masks can be found here and here.
Q. I am an Irish citizen living abroad and wish to travel home. What do I need to know? Do I have to self-isolate or restrict movements when I land to Ireland?
The relevant information and advice in relation to travel changes frequently and may be different for different regions. Please visit gov.ie for more information.
Q. Can I car-pool/share a ride with other people?
Avoid car-pooling with individuals outside of your household. However, if it must be done, please take note of the following:
- The vehicle should be cleaned frequently, this includes cleaning in between journeys. Household cleaning products should be used – taking special care to clean frequently-touched surfaces such as door handles (inside and out), window buttons and seat belt buckles. Wash your hands thoroughly after doing this
- the driver and passengers should wear face coverings
- try to share transport with the same people each time and/or have a small number of passengers
- keep windows open for ventilation, where safe to do so
- depending on the type of vehicle, have passengers facing away from each other
- seat passengers at the maximum distance possible from each other
Last Updated 22/06/2021