Covid-19 testing regimes in the Defence Forces may have to be altered after it emerged that soldiers awaiting deployment to Lebanon weren't tested for the virus for nearly two weeks after they went into quarantine at an army camp.
Around 160 soldiers preparing for UN peacekeeping duties in Lebanon were put into isolation at Lynch Camp, near Kilworth, County Cork on June 17 — but weren't tested until June 29.
The Defence Forces said two were confirmed as being positive and were thus prevented from flying out to Lebanon last Wednesday night, along with another 25 who were in close contact with them at the camp.
Questions have been asked as to why they weren't tested on arrival as well as prior to departure.
PDForra, which represents enlisted personnel, said in a statement it “would expect an after-action review to be taken of what occurred and testing may have to be carried out earlier in future".
Fianna Fáil TD for the area, James O'Connor, said questions need to be asked in terms of the testing regime and he will contact the Department of Defence on the issue.
The Defence Forces said the soldiers who had tested positive, and the other 25 who are self-isolating as a result, had adhered to strict guidelines in the camp and hadn't come in close contact with its garrison's staff or civilian workers.
They added that none of those preparing to embark had been in Fermoy during their quarantine period.
Fermoy area has been identified as a Covid-19 hotspot. This is being linked to the large number of people who live there and work in a meat-processing plant in nearby Watergrasshill, which was the site of a Covid-19 outbreak some weeks ago.
The Defence Forces added that it had carried out testing in line with HSE guidelines and that it hadn't carried out tests prior to June 29 because none of the soldiers had shown symptoms, or had knowingly been in contact with somebody who had tested positive.
They were required to carry out the June 29 tests because the Lebanese government has strict rules that tests have to be carried out in advance of UN troops entering the country.
There were no positive Covid-19 results on a further 160 troops who had been quarantined for the same mission at the Glen of Imaal, County Wicklow.
The Defence Forces has prided itself ohaving a very low number of confirmed cases during the pandemic because it followed HSE guidelines stringently.
In many cases soldiers, sailors and aircrews were at the forefront in aiding the HSE. Troops helped out at hospitals and testing centres and a number of Naval Service service ships were deployed as floating testing centres in Dublin and Galway in recent weeks.
A spokesman said that the few positive results have not impacted on their operational effectiveness.