Health Minister Simon Harris said a “really crucial week” lay ahead, as HSE chief Paul Reid said that, due to an increase of laboratory capacity, tests will increase from 2,500 to 4,500 a day — but warned that the supply of the reagent needed for tests remains a “significant worldwide challenge”.
Testing had dropped to 1,500 a day late last week due to issues with the availability of the reagent. There had been a goal of 15,000 tests per day, but the lack of reagent severely hampered this target.
It also emerged that 20% of the personal protective equipment -PPE- procured from China does not reach the required standard for healthcare workers, according to Mr Reid.
Just 10% of the total order worth €200m had arrived in Ireland, he added, and suppliers have been told not to send any more of the kit that did not reach the required standard.
Gardaí again urged people to follow the guidelines on social distancing, as reports emerged of groups congregating in various places such as beaches over the weekend, despite repeated warnings about the dangers of doing so.
Chief medical officer Tony Holohan said: “This past week has proven that the nation is working hard, together, by staying at home to flatten the curve.
“If you develop symptoms of Covid-19 you need to self-isolate and phone your GP.”
Meanwhile, the Government has ruled out directing people to wear face masks in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19.
The HSE’s Martin Cormican said there has been no change to the advice for the public in relation to face masks, as it was unclear whether surgical or medical masks should be worn in public spaces like buses or supermarkets.
The direction from the HSE comes as another 21 people succumbed to the disease, with a further 390 cases confirmed.
The death toll now stands at 158, with just under 5,000 diagnosed since the pandemic began. Of the latest confirmed deaths, 17 were located in the east, two in the south, and two in the west.
Nine women and 12 men died, with 12 reported as having underlying health conditions. The median age of the latest reported deaths is 81, the HSE said.
Health officials said there is little evidence to suggest wearing face masks would be effective for the public.
“Using face masks is unlikely to be of any benefit if you are not sick,” said spokeswoman a Department of Health.
“Sick people will be advised by their doctor when to use a face mask. Advice for healthcare staff is provided by the HPSC [Health Protection Surveillance Centre], is kept under review, and is updated and published as required.
“Healthcare workers need face masks and other personal protective equipment to protect them from infection during their work.”
A group of Independent TDs had urged the Government to consider urging people to wear face coverings when out in public. In a statement issued by Roscommon-Galway TD Denis Naughten, the group said face coverings could allow some people to get back to work while continuing to observe social distance and hygiene protection measures.
The Taoiseach, meanwhile, has re-registered as a doctor, and will be offering his services to the HSE during the pandemic.
Leo Varadkar, who was a doctor for seven years before opting for politics, has offered to work on the front line once a week in the battle against the pandemic.
It is understood he signed up again to the medical register last month, and will be conducting phone consultations with patients.
A spokesman for the Department of Taoiseach said: “He has offered his services to the HSE for one session a week in areas that are within his scope of practice.”
Mr Varadkar has worked in a number of hospitals across the country, including Beaumont, Blanchardstown, Crumlin Children’s Hospital, Holles Street, and Tallaght in Dublin, as well as stints in hospital’s in Navan and Wexford.
His partner, Matthew Barrett, is currently working as a doctor in Dublin.