Ireland faces a "rollercoaster ride" up and down Covid-19 restriction levels for the foreseeable future, a UCC Scientist has warned.
Ireland's Covid-19 positivity rate has risen steadily from 1.2% in early September to 4.2% this week.
“When you hit 4% positivity in the test rate at that stage you’ve lost control of the virus,” UCC Professor of Biochemistry Tom Cotter says.
“We saw it in Israel, which has been more or less shut down. In the Czech Republic it’s up to around 5-6%. You just can’t track and trace the virus when you get to that level of positivity and that’s a problem; you’ve lost control of it,” he added.
The current Covid-19 testing and tracing system is “not fast enough” and newer tests and technologies need to be considered, Professor Cotter said.
It is taking on average 36 to 48 hours to turnaround test results and taking as long as five days to complete the testing and contact tracing process, which is too slow to track down the virus, he said.
Rapid antigen tests have the potential to provide results in 20 to 30 minutes and some were showing good sensitivity and accuracy.
“If one person gets infected and passes it onto three people and that cycle continues 10 times you will have 60,000 people infected from one single case. That’s the scale of the problem but if you can test fast you can stop that,” Professor Cotter said.
“We’re wedded to the one testing system, which is all PCR (polymerise chain reaction) based and for some reason we don’t seem to be looking at other options being used in other countries,” he added.
“In Italy, they are using rapid antigen testing in schools and airports but we’re not doing anything like that in Ireland,” Professor Cotter said.
“I can’t understand why we’re not embracing other technologies to look for the virus,” he said, adding that an assessment of new and alternative tests and technologies was not happening quickly enough.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) confirmed to thethat the assessment of new test technologies was discussed at the Expert Advisory Group on Tuesday and that a report will go to Nphet this week prior to publication.