Ireland has tested more than 210,000 people for Covid-19 to date, while the case definition for getting a test appointment is to be expanded once more this week.
Speaking at yesterday evening’s briefing of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) in Dublin, Dr Cillian de Gascun, head of the team’s expert advisory group and director of the national virus reference laboratory, said that 214,761 tests were conducted as of midnight on Monday.
Over the past week, 61,707 tests were conducted, Dr de Gascun said, with a returned positivity rate of 2,280, or 3.7%.
That represents an almost three-fold increase on the number of tests carried out three weeks ago, when the positivity rate was 21%. And the health authorities are gearing up to increase testing to its highest levels to date.
“The positivity rate reducing is a good sign. Combined with the high level of testing we are now undertaking, this gives us confidence that we are on a path towards suppression of the disease," Dr de Gascun said.
He said that Ireland’s current testing capacity stands at 84,000 per week, two weeks out from the deadline to reach the target of 100,000 every seven days.
That figure has been the basis of much conjecture as the State has repeatedly failed to meet the goals it had set itself, leading to suggestions of a rift between the NPHET and HSE operations due to the former allegedly communicating targets to the public before consulting with those expected to meet them.
The first mention of the key 100,000 figure itself came from the Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan on RTE’s Late Late Show on April 18.
Speaking yesterday, Dr de Gascun said that no issues exist “at present” with the target of 100,000 tests to be carried out weekly in a fortnight’s time.
“No, there are no issues at present. We’re increasing testing capacity week on week and we’ve had a couple more bits of equipment arriving this week and next week to that end, so at the moment everything looks good,” he said.
“It’s a tribute to all those working in HSE procurement. It has taken a huge amount of work to get up to where we are in terms of testing. All things are looking good for us to reach that figure,” he said.
While the capability for a high level of testing may exist, it appears that just 75% of that capacity is currently being used with only those in high-risk groups currently eligible to be tested.
A number of the country’s 48 testing centres were closed over the bank holiday weekend with others operating under reduced hours, with Social Democrats leader Roisin Shortall expressing frustration at the situation.
“Why are we not using the full testing capacity when the national strategy is based on test and trace?” Ms Shortall said yesterday.
Dr de Gascun confirmed that the case definition, most recently expanded to allow eligibility for testing to those in high risk categories but displaying just one symptom of the virus, will be changing once more this week, though no indication was given to what form the new definition will take.
“We want to be in a position where our testing capacity doesn’t shape our strategy,” Dr de Gascun said.
“It’s probably fair to say it has been in recent weeks. This week we’re coming to a position where that will no longer be a constraining factor for us. In the community we want to test at a capacity to in essence show what’s happening with the virus in the community. That’s a piece of information we don’t yet have.”