Immunologist Professor Paul Moynagh has said that Ireland should be striving to increase testing for Covid-19 to 15,000 a day, a target he believes is achievable.
Every positive case that can be identified will help reduce the rate of transmission, he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
Prof. Moynagh, who is also head of the Kathleen Lonsdale Institute for Human Health at NUI Maynooth, added that because so much of the infection and transmission comes from people who are asymptotic, it was really important to try to capture the level of infection in the community.
Ways to bypass the current bottleneck need to be examined, he said. It should also be investigated if the pharmaceutical sector can provide support, so testing can be scaled up
Meanwhile Paddy Mallon, an infectious disease physician at St Vincent’s hospital and Professor of Microbial Diseases at UCD school of medicine has called for a slowing down of community testing for Covid-19 and a ramping up of testing for healthcare workers.
It would be more beneficial to keep more healthcare staff at work, he told Newstalk Breakfast.
While “a huge amount of work” is going on into seeking out alternative options for testing, “for the moment we need to accept we cannot do it right, so for the next week or two the focus should be on healthcare workers.”
Prof Mallon said that at the moment the rate of increase of admission to intensive care units was steady and Ireland had so far managed to avoid the “tidal wave” of cases currently being experienced in London and New York.
“So far we’ve avoided that. If we avoid the tidal wave we can slow the creep of cases in intensive care, the rate at which we’re putting stress on ICUs.”
Prof Mallon said that if the rate of admission to intensive care continues to increase then that would not be sustainable.
“We are now on a knife edge and the only thing that is going to protect the health system is the measures we’re taking.”
He said that if by next week the situation is the same then the country will have to look at starting to push back which will mean ramping up community testing and to avoid new infection coming into the country.
There are very few countries not taking measures to protect their borders, he said. “The longer we do nothing the more concerned I’d be.”
Also speaking this morning, professor Ruairi Brugha, head of the Department of Public Health and Epidemiology at the Royal College of Surgeons has said increased and earlier contact tracing of people who develop early symptoms of Covid-19 could work more effectively than waiting for tests to confirm the presence of Covid-19.
“We don't need to lose anything in the effectiveness of response” by moving from relying on tests to relying on presumptive diagnoses from GPs, he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
Instead of having delays of up to 10 days, “we can move in when people have symptoms and start contact tracing at that point.”
Detection programmes are showing that most transmission of Covid-19 happens in the asymptomatic phase (when someone has no symptoms of illness) - up to one or two days before the symptoms show, he said.
Prof Brugha added that carrying out contact tracing as early as possible would improve the overall outcomes by getting people to self-isolate as soon as they have been identified.