The Cabinet has approved changes to the isolation periods for Covid-19, which will take effect from midnight tomorrow.

The Government decision brings an end to the five-day isolation period for fully vaccinated close contacts who do not have any Covid-19 symptoms.

However, they will be advised to wear a medical or higher grade mask and to take regular antigen tests.

Close contacts who have not received a booster vaccine will have to restrict their movements for seven days.

Today's decision also means that anyone who has Covid-19 will now have to isolate for seven rather than ten days.

And there will no longer be a requirement to confirm an antigen test result with a PCR test for people aged four to 39 years.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said the Health Service Executive website will be upgraded to enable people upload positive antigen tests and close contact details who would then be sent tests.

Sinn Féin's Health spokesperson David Cullinane said the scrapping of the requirement for a PCR test should result in all antigen tests being made available freely.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Latest coronavirus stories

The Taoiseach said the proposals to relax self-isolation rules are coming about because the success of the vaccination programme.

Micheál Martin said it is about balancing risk and that public health officials predict the current Omicron wave will peak in the next week or two but it is impossible to be definitive on that.

Mr Martin said that there are "hopeful signs" in the battle against Omicron.

He added that although numbers in critical care have not risen as high as in previous waves "there are almost a thousand people in hospital and one doesn't go into hospital unless you are sick, so we do understand this is a very dangerous virus".

The Taoiseach has said that NPHET will review current restrictions on the hospitality sector, when it meets on 20 January.

However, he said that it remains the case that those restrictions will remain in place until at least the end of the month.

This evening, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohon said he is concerned there is a view that all of the requirements are being removed under the latest guidelines and this is simply not the case.

Speaking on RTÉ's Six One News, he said the recommendation is that a person that previously was boosted and would have had to restrict movement for five days will no longer need to do so as long as they stay asymptomatic, but they must use a higher grade mask and use antigen tests for a period of time.

Business group, Ibec, welcomed news of the change to close contact rules.

It said it will support businesses across the country to more effectively manage staffing challenges posed by Covid.

"Today's announcement from Government will enable many struggling businesses to take their first steps towards addressing crippling staffing challenges induced by Covid and in turn, better ensure that recent disruptions to manufacturing and retailing activities providing essential supply of goods and services across society are not repeated," said Ibec CEO Danny McCoy.

"Business recognises the role it must continue to play in supporting the suppression of Covid, ensuring our workplaces are safe environments, and continuing our positive engagement with Government on the implementation of the Work Safely Protocol guidance."

But the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) said given the current rate of virus transmission, the changes must be kept under constant review by NPHET.

"The amendments to isolation periods recommended by the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan to Government are not without risk as already outlined by the ECDC in their very recent report," said Patricia King, ICTU General Secretary.

"Therefore we must continue to be cautious."

Additional reporting: Tommy Meskill, Will Goodbody