The clinical lead on Covid-19 at the Irish College of General Practitioners has warned that if restrictions are lifted then there will need to be more testing so that anyone displaying symptoms can be tested quickly and isolated to stop the spread of the virus.
Dr Nuala O’Connor said she welcomed plans to increase testing, but she was concerned about the capacity to get results in a timely fashion.
“I hope increased testing can happen, but it will mean a lot of extra work,” she told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
There is a need to identify and isolate cases, she added. At present GPs are referring 1,300 to 1,400 patients per day for testing. If every GP were to add only one extra patient per day for testing that would mean a significant increase in numbers, said Dr O’Connor.
Yes, we must test more, but we need to ensure we have the capacity to test in a timely manner and to follow up with contact tracing.
However, Dr O’Connor pointed out that in the meantime GPs continue to treat patients in the community who potentially have the virus, but at present do not meet the criteria for testing. “Clinically their care is not affected.”
Such patients are advised to stay at home and restrict their movements, she said. It was important to get a true sense of how many cases there are in the community.
If more people are experiencing some symptoms they need to be identified quickly and isolated along with those in their household.
Obstetrician and Gynecologist, Dr Carmen Regan has said that “a lot of joined up thinking” is required with regard to testing and the lifting of restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“We are in the containment phase, testing will have to be ramped up,”she told RTÉ radio’s Today with Séan O’Rourke show.
Dr Regan said she anticipates some loosening of the restrictions on the 0ver-70s who will be allowed go for short walks and to go shopping at specific times, if they are wearing masks.
Testing for at risk groups will have to be ramped up, she added. Especially those in residential care and health care workers and pregnant women.
Dr Regan pointed out that a recent study in New York had found that 13 per cent of pregnant women who had contracted the virus had been asymptomatic.
They will need care and they pose a risk to themselves and to health care workers.
Meanwhile, GP registrar and registered pharmacist, Dr Domhnall Herron has said that covering noses and mouths in public may be part of the overall solution to halt the spread of Covid-19. The general public should wear face masks when out and about - particularly when in supermarkets, he told RTÉ radio’s News at One.
Dr Herron explained that face masks are a physical barrier to stop droplets being expelled, but he warned that there will only be full benefit if everyone uses them.
He further stressed that masks are not a replacement for physical distancing, adding that physical distancing and widespread testing will be the best way to continue to suppress the spread of the virus.
Dr Herron acknowledged that masks may give people a false sense of security or encourage them to touch their faces more often, but he said that these obstacles could be overcome with clear public health advice.
Dr Herron also recommended that members of the public should make their own cloth face masks from T-shirts and leave the surgical masks for the health care workers.