The majority of healthcare workers have been given the greenlight to wear surgical face masks when working closely with patients during the Covid-19 outbreak.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) updated its guidance requiring all healthcare staff working within two metres of patients to wear surgical masks regardless of whether patients were infected by the virus or not.
The masks will reduce the risk of transmitting Covid-19 to the wearer or to others.
The move follows recent calls for healthcare workers on the Covid-19 frontline to be given face masks as a basic form or personal protective equipment or PPE.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) welcomed the policy change and said it will mean that nearly all frontline healthcare workers will wear face masks.
Earlier this month the INMO wrote to the Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry calling for face masks to be made available as a minimum form of protection against the virus.
“This is welcome news to frontline staff and patients, which should ease some anxiety and reduce transmission of the virus,” INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said.
“This should have been rolled out weeks ago, but we are glad to have finally secured this measure. It will not only benefit frontline healthcare workers, but will reduce the risk of transmission to patients.”
The next step, the INMO said, is ensuring sufficient supplies are available for all health workers.
Meanwhile, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has assessed the potential use of alternative diagnostic tests for Covid-19 but cautioned it may be some time before new tests come into use.
At present the real-time RT-PCR technique is the “gold standard” in laboratory testing for coronavirus.
Other tests, however, hold the promise of quicker turnaround times and results.
Antigen tests, which detect the presence of the Covid-19 virus in the body, could be faster than the current gold standard but may also be less sensitive.
Antibody tests could be used to detect if an individual had the virus in the past but may be of limited use as it is not fully understood how Covid-19 works or if it reinfects.
An assessment by HIQA of tests on the market and in development, however, found that it could be some time before the gold standard is replaced by newer or faster tests.
Dr Máirín Ryan, who is Deputy CEO of HIQA and also advises the National Public Health Emergency Team, said antigen tests and antibody tests must be proven to be safe and effective before they can be used in clinical decision-making.
“Before these tests can be adopted as part of a national testing strategy, they will need to be independently clinically validated, locally verified, with ongoing review as part of a comprehensive quality assurance programme,” Dr Ryan explained.
HIQA said a “cohesive national testing strategy” is needed to ensure the right test is carried out on the right person, at the right time, and for the right purpose.
The watchdog is also participating in a European assessment of emerging diagnostic tests for Covid-19.