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Pressure Covid-19 tests may be limited to vulnerable groups only

4,962 new cases of coronavirus were reported on Sunday, bringing the total number of infections in Ireland over the 100,000 mark


Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan

Colin Keegan

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan

The HSE is under such pressure that it may have to stop offering a Covid-19 test to everyone who has symptoms in the coming weeks.

The testing and tracing system is becoming increasingly overwhelmed to the point where the automatic test for everyone who is suspected of having the lethal virus may have to be abandoned.

Instead, targeted testing of particular groups – such as older people – may have to be introduced. It comes as 4,962 new cases of the virus were reported yesterday bringing the total number of infections here over the 100,000 mark to 101,887.

Anyone with symptoms of the virus is still being referred for testing as of now.

However in a letter to GPs, Dr Nuala O’Connor of the Irish College of General Practitioners said: “It is possible in the coming weeks that we may revert to targeted testing of symptomatic groups rather than testing everyone with symptoms as we did in the first phase of the pandemic.”

The guidance also said that If close contacts have ongoing exposure to the person with Covid-19, such as a family member who cannot self-isolate – a child or dependent adult – then the family must stay at home for 17 days.

With new infections reaching a record high yesterday, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan bluntly told people: “Stay at home."

As of 2pm yesterday, there were 685 patients with Covid-19 in hospital, of whom 62 were in ICU. An additional 96 people were admitted to hospital in the previous 24 hours.

"This is a critical time. We are seeing a really significant surge in infection, which is leading to a very rapid increase in both hospitalisations and admissions to critical care units,” said Dr Holohan.

He said this was “unsustainable for the healthcare system”.

He told the public to "act as though you are infectious” and told people to work from home from today, “and if you are an employer, ask your employees to work at home”.

It also emerged that 25pc of people who test positive are not answering the first call from public health staff asking for a list of their contacts.

Dr O’Connor said: “At least five attempts are made over two days. Additional efforts are also made to identify correct phone numbers for all cases. Incorrect phone numbers are a part of this problem so please try to make sure that you have the correct mobile phone number for all of your patients.”

“HSE is asking everyone in Ireland to stay at home, and to effectively act like they may develop Covid-19," she said.

“This is in response to the very high rates of positive tests seen over recent days, and the widespread increase in infections in our communities nationwide. This is a temporary measure and we will revert to testing close contacts as the third wave comes under control.

“The testing capacity is for 25,000 tests per day – 40pc of tests in recent weeks were on close contacts.”

Close contacts will continue to be identified in the same manner, via a phone call to those who test positive, by a contact tracer from the HSE.

The formally identified close contacts will receive a text message from the HSE explaining they will not be tested but need to stay at home and restrict their movements for the full 14 days from last contact with the person with Covid.

“If close contacts have ongoing exposure to the person with Covid-19 – ie a family member who cannot self-isolate, a child or dependent adult – then the family must stay at home for 17 days. ,” said Dr O’Connor.

“Some close contacts may be missed and will self-identify. The advice for these is the same and we do not need to notify public health. If close contacts develop symptoms they are advised to self-isolate, contact a GP or ‘out of hours' and they should be referred for testing in the usual manner.”

She said GPs have the discretion to refer an asymptomatic close contact for testing if they consider it is medically important – for example, if they are living with a vulnerable person.

GP practice team members and any health care worker who are close contacts should be tested.

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Irish Independent