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New plan Close contacts will no longer be offered PCR test if community testing demand exceeds 20,000 a day

Instead, close contacts will be given a packet of five antigen tests to take home with instructions on how to use them.

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Warning: Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan urged people who are not yet fully vaccinated to be cautious. Photo: Colin Keegan

Warning: Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan urged people who are not yet fully vaccinated to be cautious. Photo: Colin Keegan

Warning: Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan urged people who are not yet fully vaccinated to be cautious. Photo: Colin Keegan

People who are close contacts of confirmed Covid-19 cases will be asked to do DIY antigen testing with self-swabbing at home if the number of suspected infections continues to soar.

It comes amid a rise in incidence of infection in older age groups, including those aged 65 and older, although the same ratio of sickness and death as before will not unfold.

The HSE confirmed yesterday it has a plan in place if its community testing demand exceeds 20,000 people a day needing a Covid-19 test.

Close contacts would no longer be automatically offered the gold standard PCR test, which is analysed in a laboratory.

Instead, close contacts will be given a packet of five antigen tests to take home with instructions on how to use them.

They will test themselves over subsequent days and if they are clear after 10 days they can stop restricting their movements. If they test positive they will be asked to come for a PCR test.

The plan is aimed at relieving pressure on HSE centres testing people with symptoms once a certain threshold of demand is reached.

A spokeswoman said: “Our current community testing levels are 14,000 per day and we have seen a sustained increase in community testing demand over the last number of weeks.

“Should community testing demand exceed 20,000 tests per day, we will look to deploy antigen testing for close contacts.”

People will be given video instructions on how to do the self-swab antigen home tests which have a quick turnaround result.

It would be the first time the HSE has deployed antigen tests among the general public.

The HSE is urging anyone with possible symptoms to self-isolate and have a test by applying online or seeking a referral through their GP. They will be offered a laboratory-confirmed PCR test.

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The number of new cases rose to 1,017 yesterday as the highly infectious Delta variant surge continued.

Yesterday, there were 101 Covid-19 patients in hospital, the highest since the end of May. The numbers in intensive care rose more slowly to 20.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “While we continue to enjoy the good weather, we are unfortunately also continuing to see a rise in incidence of disease across all key indicators.

“Our 14-day incidence is now the highest it’s been since February 24 at 231 per 100,000.

“Our five-day average is 1,159 cases per day, the highest it’s been since February 2.

He said: “If you are fully vaccinated, you can have confidence in your vaccine and enjoy socialising and meeting with other vaccinated people indoors, so long as you continue to follow the basic public health precautions.

“If you are waiting to be fully vaccinated, then it is best to continue to socialise outdoors.

“If you have planned to attend a social event, and you experience symptoms of Covid-19, including symptoms of seasonal cold and flu such as headache, sore throat, runny nose; please stay at home, do not attend that event. This applies regardless of your vaccination status. Let your close contacts know how you feel, self-isolate and get tested.

“It can be tempting to defer getting a test but as soon as you experience symptoms, the best way to protect yourself and others is to arrange one straight away.”

Prof Philip Nolan, who tracks the spread of the virus for the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), said yesterday the “data is saying one thing – be very cautious faced with the Delta variant. We are seeing a very steep rise in cases, comparable to or steeper than the early part of previous waves”.

Meanwhile, testing healthcare workers who are not vaccinated “at intervals” based on a risk assessment may be an option, according to updated HSE guidelines.

Monitoring for infection is important for all healthcare workers to protect others. “This is particularly important for those who are not vaccinated but staff members who are vaccinated can have infection and should also be monitored,” it said.

The guidelines say temporary reassignment to areas with lower exposure risk is an important option for managing risk of exposure for people who are not vaccinated.

They say appropriate use of PPE is recommended for all healthcare workers but is particularly important for those who are not vaccinated.

Separately, HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said recent Data Protection Commissioner guidance “confirms the view that the HSE can lawfully collect this information for staff in high-risk areas."

However this is subject to an assessment of the health and safety risks presented and the risks associated with a worker’s rights under data protection legislation.

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