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HSE says cases need to drop at a 'consistent level' before it can resume testing close contacts

Covid-19 testing criteria for close contacts changed last month.

File photo. The testing centre at the Aviva Stadium.
File photo. The testing centre at the Aviva Stadium.
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Rollingnews.ie

CLOSE CONTACTS OF confirmed cases of Covid-19 could soon be tested again, however, the HSE says it needs to see the level of coronavirus positive cases drop at a consistent level, over a consistent period of time, before it can consider reintroducing automatic testing again. 

It was confirmed on New Year’s Eve that close contacts of confirmed Covid-19 cases would no longer be advised to get tested due to the widespread level of infection and increased pressure on the testing system. 

This was described as a “temporary measure” and close contacts are still advised to restrict movements for 14 days. 

Prior to this, close contacts of confirmed cases received a Covid-19 test five or six days after the day they were last in contact with the positive case.  

The Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said this change was made to “support the testing system through this surge”. At the time cases were beginning to climb over 1,500 – the HSE’s capacity for a full contact tracing service and close contact testing.

Despite daily case numbers in the thousands earlier in the month, they have begun to fall again with yesterday seeing 928 new cases reported. 

A HSE spokesperson said this afternoon: “The HSE needs to see the levels of positive cases drop at a consistent level, over a consistent period of time, before it can consider reintroducing the automatic testing of close contacts.

“However, we are keen to have this measure in place as soon as possible. There is a process in place to assess the possibility of resuming the testing of close contacts from a range of measures.”

The spokesperson said the HSE’s capacity is set at 1,500 positive cases per day for a full contact tracing service and close contact testing. 

“When we get cases to consistently at or below our capacity level (for a full tracing service) we will look to resume close contact testing,” the spokesperson said. “Please note we also have to consider laboratory testing capacity which has been expanded over recent months to deliver 25,000 tests day.

“While community test referrals are reducing, testing in acute hospitals and in outbreaks have increased significantly and the HSE laboratory network is operating at high volumes currently.

“However, the best advice remains, assume you have it or assume the person you meet has it and that’s the best protection you can have.”

HSE chief Paul Reid said last week that officials are “very anxious” to get back to testing close contacts.

“We do aim to get back to it,” he told RTE’s This Week. “We would need (cases) to be sustained below 2,000 for a few days for that to happen but we’re very anxious for that to happen.”

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With reporting from Sean Murray

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Adam Daly

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