Test and trace chief Damien McCallion warned that the testing system would now have a limited role now in suppressing Covid-19 due to the extreme hold the virus had on the community.
A further 9,006 cases were confirmed yesterday with a 43pc positivity rate, as the Omicron surge gains momentum across the country.
Mr McCallion told the
Sunday World that if you have symptoms the likelihood is that you have Covid-19.
“We’re operating at very close to peak now,” he said, as two more test centres prepare to come on stream, creating a total of nearly 50 across the State.
“But with a positivity rate of one in two, we’re at the ceiling of the role it can play [in controlling spread through warning close contacts].”
“Demand for testing is clearly huge at the moment. It peaked in the middle of Christmas week, but there is continued excess demand and slots are filling up very quickly,” he said.
“We’ve brought in a huge number of partners to help, and we have increased mobile testing centres. But with positivity rates of close to 50pc, anyone with symptoms should realise they are likely to have it and should be isolating.”
He said PCR testing was also taking place in acute hospitals, and was now running at an unprecedented level of 6,000 a week.
“We will be close to 300,000 tests this week, and the demand is in excess of that.
“If you are symptomatic, you need to restrict your movements until you are symptom-free for 48 hours.
“Other people need to minimise contacts, exposure and risk.
“My sense is that people have respected that over Christmas and have been careful, but the virus and disease is widespread nonetheless.”
He said the disease was “rife” and the impact on hospitals would not be evident “for a few weeks yet”.
“We’ll have to see how it plays out in relation to our hospitals.
“Only 40pc of the adult population may have been boosted to this point, but it is still one of the highest levels in Europe.
“That, and the huge level of principal vaccinations we have seen in the last year, should serve us well as a country.
“But we definitely have some more cases of flu this season, as compared with last year, which is a pressure.”
Mr McCallion said he was optimistic, but people needed to continue to heed public health advice, particularly around looming New Year’s Eve celebrations.
A government spokesman said the coronavirus situation was being kept under review.
“Omicron is very transmissible, and we still need to assess the impact on our health system,” they said.
“Any changes will be decided by Government following public health and the latest data.”
The United States has reduced the isolation period for all close contacts to five days without symptoms, but Mr McCallion said the question of Ireland following suit – in relation to the unboosted majority – was a matter for Nphet to consider.
Meanwhile, a new study has suggested that an Omicron infection may protect against the earlier Delta variant, helping to lower the severity of the pandemic.
Researchers discovered that the antibody response to Omicron rose fourteenfold two weeks after an infection.
But they were surprised to find that neutralising antibodies against Delta also increased more than fourfold.
They also showed that vaccinated participants were able to mount a better neutralising response against Delta.
However, the response in unvaccinated participants was more variable.
Lead researcher Alex Sigal, a professor at Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa, said that if Omicron was less severe as it looked to
be from the recent data, “this will help push Delta out”.