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Covid-19 Tests

Dáil Éireann Debate, Friday - 3 December 2021

Friday, 3 December 2021

Questions (211)

David Cullinane

Question:

211. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Health his plans to expand access to antigen and PCR testing; the status of tracing capacity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59115/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

Testing and contact-tracing continues to be a key component of the Government’s response to the pandemic.

Demand for testing at this time is very high, with almost 220,000 tests conducted in the last seven days. This demand on the testing and tracing system is due to the high level of infection currently being experienced in the community.

The HSE is making every effort necessary to address the very significant demand arising for PCR testing. This includes making arrangements with private providers to add new capacity, extending the opening hours of swabbing centres and ongoing recruitment and redeployment to swabbing teams, and doubling the number of National Ambulance Service mobile teams.

The HSE operates testing centres at locations around the country, details of which are available on the HSE website at hse.ie. The HSE also continues to monitor the need for testing centres and the most appropriate locations at any given time. Individuals who have a medical condition that prevents them from getting to a test centre can be referred by a GP for a home test.

These measures have increased the base community PCR capacity from 15,000 to 25,000 tests per day. Including acute hospital capacity, the HSE is now able to deliver 29,500 tests a day.

People using the self-referral online portal to book a test may find, at times, that no appointments are available. Appointments become available at various times during the day so people should try again later. If anybody with symptoms has concerns about booking a test, they should contact their GP.

As a result of this very high demand, the HSE is prioritising those who are clinically referred and symptomatic close contacts.

Antigen testing is already being used widely across the State, supported by the health service, including for testing of asymptomatic, vaccinated close contacts of a confirmed case, and in pilot programmes involving staff in early childcare facilities, staff and students in further and higher education, staff in food production facilities and in residential Care Facilities (RCFs) for Older Persons. From Monday 29th November, as an additional measure to support parents and schools, free antigen tests are now offered for primary school children who are identified as close contacts as part of a pod in which there was a confirmed case of COVID-19.  Antigen tests will be offered to a full class when two or more confirmed cases arise outside of a single pod in a class within a seven-day period.

It is important to reiterate the public health advice that anybody waiting for a test who has symptoms of Covid-19, should continue to self-isolate until they are at least 48 hours’ symptom free. This should minimize any impact where a person may have to wait a number of days for a test.

The role of testing and contact tracing, as part of the wider public health response, has been under ongoing review throughout the pandemic and will continue to be reviewed and amended in line with the epidemiological profile of the disease, its impact on healthcare utilisation and outcomes, the vaccination status of the population and ECDC guidance.

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