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'Almost impossible' HSE warns of PCR test delays as centres 'swamped' amid huge Omicron surge

Immunology professor Kingston Mills warned that the officially released Covid case figures may only “be the tip of the iceberg" and that we do not know the real number of people infected "because not everyone is going for a test or being picked up,"

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People arrive for a Covid test at Citywest

People arrive for a Covid test at Citywest

People arrive for a Covid test at Citywest

Ireland’s record Covid-19 case figures of recent days may only be the "tip of the iceberg" on the true spread of the Omicron variant as the HSE warned of even longer delays for PCR tests.

HSE test-and-trace lead Damien McCallion said it is “almost impossible” to keep up with the demand for testing due to the high level of infection in the community.

It comes as the positivity rate hit 49pc yesterday, with 6,735 more cases confirmed.

However, immunology professor Kingston Mills warned that the officially released Covid case figures may only “be the tip of the iceberg" and that we do not know the real number of people infected "because not everyone is going for a test or being picked up,"

It is understood that the three Government leaders are in constant contact over the situation.

However, there are currently no plans for Cabinet or the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to meet this week.

It comes as the vaccine portal for high-risk five- to 11-year-old children opens this morning for registrations.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Prof Mills said: “I think we’re going to see significant numbers of cases right into January because they may just be the tip of the iceberg in terms of the real number of people that are infected because not everyone is going for a test or being picked up.

“The testing centres are under severe pressure.

"Not everyone is getting appointments so all those are adding up to the fact that there’s going to be significantly more cases than the actual official numbers .”

He said the current wave of Covid-19 may not peak until the middle of January.

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Health officials are expecting large numbers of cases to be reported over the coming days after testing centres across the country reopened fully yesterday having been closed or scaled back over Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day.

However, the high demand for tests is such that as of 7.30pm yesterday, the only availability for PCR testing on the HSE website over the next two days was in Co Kilkenny.

Dr Gerald Barry, assistant professor of virology at University College Dublin, told the Irish Independent that the high positivity rate recorded yesterday is “a reflection of Omicron running through the population at the moment” and of people using antigen testing.

The highly transmissible variant is now believed to account for 87pc of cases.

“It’s been a concern for a long time that if you can’t get a convenient and easy test, people may brush off mild symptoms and carry on with their lives,” Dr Barry said.

“There’s lots of places in the country where people have to drive for maybe an hour to get to a test centre, and over the Christmas period that’s a challenge for some people.

“I think there’s a combination of convenience and hassle of having to constantly log on to look for a slot, that’s a pain.

“This has been a problem for a long time but it’s only going to be exacerbated by Omicron.”

From today parents can register children aged five to 11 for a Covid vaccine if they are high risk or live with a high risk person.

Parents can register online at hse.ie or by phone at 1800 700 700. All other children can be registered for a vaccine in January.

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