Thursday, 11 February 2021

Questions (247)

Neale Richmond

Question:

247. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Health his plans for mass testing in childcare settings; the frequency at which these tests are carried out; the way in which the facilities are chosen for testing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7627/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

In Ireland, the National Testing Strategy for COVID-19 involves testing people who meet the case definition (people with symptoms), their identified close contacts, and established serial testing programmes including residential care facilities, schools and food production facilities, and following the completion of a Public Health Risk Assessment. The National Testing Strategy is directed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and coordinated by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

There is ongoing consideration given by the Government to policy in relation to the management of Covid-19 in childcare settings. The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has published guidance for Childcare Settings relating to the management of Covid-19 available at https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/guidance/childcareguidance/.

Over the last number of months, the HSE has worked intensively to put in place a comprehensive, reliable and responsive testing and tracing operation. Where a childcare setting is informed of a child or staff member who has tested positive for Covid-19, if the case was in the facility during the infectious period, the HSE endeavour to contact the service management the same day, although this may be the following day in some cases. When public health doctors make contact with the setting, they will proceed to undertake a Public Health Risk Assessment (PHRA). Core to the PHRA will be assessing the likelihood of onward transmission from the case identified, and this will inform their further actions. The risk assessment applied in various settings may be dynamic and change as new information becomes available, and the testing strategy may evolve as information unfolds. Decisions relating to testing are made based on the risk assessment undertaken.

The Deputy may wish to note that in the period from 23rd August 2020 to 8th February 2021, 10,976 tests have been carried out in 514 childcare facilities. In the week of 31st January to 6th February 2021, 427 tests were carried out in 35 childcare facilities based on a Public Health Risk Assessment. The Schools and Childcare Facility Testing Report is published on a weekly basis by the HSE and is accessible on their website.

Ireland is pursuing a robust testing strategy under the guidance of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). On an ongoing basis, NPHET considers and reviews, based on public health risk assessments, how best to target testing to hunt the virus in populations where it’s most likely and where it will do most harm. The risk assessment applied in childcare settings may be dynamic and change as new information becomes available, and the testing strategy may evolve as information unfolds.