Coronavirus testing is ‘available for everyone who needs it’ – NI health minister

Coronavirus testing is ‘available for everyone who needs it’ – NI health minister

Robin Swann expressed concern about the potential for an “inaccurate narrative” developing that could put those who need a test off coming forward. (PA)

Coronavirus testing is available for everyone who needs it, the Stormont health minister has said.

Robin Swann said there has been additional demand on testing with the return of children to schools, but said more than ever are being tested in response.

He expressed concern about the potential for an “inaccurate narrative” developing that could put those who need a test off coming forward.

As the minister appeared at the Stormont health committee, SDLP MLA Colin McGrath cited examples of constituents in his South Down constituency being offered tests on the Isle of Man and Scotland.

Mr Swann said there have been instances of people who live on the east coast of Northern Ireland being signposted to locations in Britain because the national testing system directs to the closest available test.

“Geographically, the computer says maybe Scotland, and I think we had the reverse three weeks ago where some of the test centres in Scotland were being directed here,” he said.

The minister urged those experiencing difficulties in booking a test to leave the automatic system for an hour and try again, explaining that more tests are put online as demand increases.

“I would be very concerned if an inaccurate public narrative were to develop that tests weren’t available, or that people have to travel excessive distances,” he said.

“Such a misunderstanding could see people that need to be tested not coming forward.

“Yesterday we tested many more people than ever we had before.

“The testing is there for everyone that needs it.”

Mr Swann issued a reminder that only those with symptoms of Covid-19, such as a new continuous cough, fever/high temperature, loss of sense of taste or smell, should seek testing.

“If you do not have these specific symptoms, but do have other cold-like symptoms, a runny nose, you do not need to get tested, and a child can go to school if they are fit to do so.”

Mr Swann said the Stop Covid NI app has now been downloaded more than 325,000 times, and 475 exposure notifications issued.

The latest coronavirus statistics released by the North's Department of Health today revealed that there had been a further death with the virus, bringing the total toll in Northern Ireland to 563.

Meanwhile, another 77 people have tested positive for Covid-19.

Some 467 new cases of the virus have been detected in the last seven days, bringing the total there to 7,442.

There are currently 21 active outbreaks at care homes.

Also giving evidence to the committee, chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said it is a “different picture” at care homes than during the first wave of the pandemic.

“We have completed our first round of tests of all care home staff and residents, as of the end of June, and the next wave of that commenced on August 3,” he said.

“We have tested over 24,000 staff and residents … we are working with the sector in terms of providing additional support, there has been additional training around infection prevention and control.

“What we are seeing now is the active case-finding as a result of the testing programme, and that means we can respond immediately to close down outbreaks, so when we see two or more, we test everybody, residents and staff.

“In all of this we will keep the situation under review in terms of the frequency of testing staff and residents.

“I hope we can avoid getting into the situation where we impose a blanket ban on visiting because that is hugely detrimental to residents and indeed to relatives.”

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