Half of close contacts of Covid-19 confirmed cases are failing to turn up for their second test which is conducted seven days after the first.
And as many as quarter of those who have made appointments for voluntary Covid-19 testing are not presenting.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid described the news of non-attendance as “concerning”, adding that in most cases, people are committing to an appointment and “then they are a no-show”.
“It’s really important, even if you don’t have symptoms, to come forward for a test — for yourself, for your family, for the wider public, to stop the surge from happening,” he said.
Asked whether the conversation has changed between health officials and close contacts due to the non-takeup of appointments, Mr Reid said “there is a longer dialogue” now in each instance between the two, with the person reminded of the possible impact “to their own healthcare ... and the impact of the potential contagion”.
The HSE has also revealed that Ireland now has a positivity rate of about 5.6 cases per 100,000 population, up from just 2.5 over the previous fortnight. Close contacts for confirmed cases have increased from just over two a fortnight ago to a current average of 5.4.
Anthony Staines, professor of public health with the school of nursing at Dublin City University, described the news of non-attended appointments as “shocking and very worrying”, and said people should be compelled to take their test by law.
He said “there is authority of the public health legislation to require people to either quarantine or to have tests”.
“We need to use it,” he said. “It has been used in the past to compel people to have treatments for tuberculosis, for example.
Asked what sanctions are available for those who miss tests, the Department of Health would only say “the strongly recommended public health advice is that those who are a close contact of a confirmed case should present for a test and a follow-up test seven days later”.
A barrister specialising in medical law, Simon Mills, said “there would be nothing to stop the Oireachtas creating a situation where people could be required to attend” a test.
“It’s conceivable that legislation could be enacted to compel compliance. The question is what do you do if they still don’t respond?
"Do you use jail time, or a fine? You have to make sure it isn’t overly draconian and that the response is proportionate,” he said.
The National Public Health Emergency Team last night confirmed one further death and 17 new cases of Covid-19.