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'Canary in the coalmine' GP data indicates increase in people with Covid symptoms

A GP tracker survey has indicated that the number of patients reporting Covid symptoms has doubled this week.

Weekly values Mar 2020 to Mar 2021

A TRACKING SYSTEM for GP clinics has indicated that the number of people reporting Covid-19 symptoms to their GP has doubled this week. 

The ‘GP Buddy’ tracker sends out a survey to GPs across the country, and asks them how many phone-call appointments about Covid-19 they have received; and how many of these warranted referral for a Covid-19 PCR test.

The tracker receives around 125-175 responses per day. This Monday, the number of people with symptoms severe enough to warrant testing was double the previous three Mondays – increasing from 0.86, 0.98, 1.15 to 2.09 cases of testing referrals per GP.

It’s uncertain whether the increase in Covid-19 symptoms equate directly to an increase in Covid-19 cases, as GPs do not have real-time access to the number of confirmed tests.

But this data is sent to the Department of Health and NPHET as a ‘canary in the coalmine’ indicator of a possible increase in Covid-19 cases that may be on the way.

Testing Source: GP Buddy tracker

Full Level 5 Covid restrictions have been in place since January in Ireland, following an increase in Covid-19 cases in the run up to the Christmas period. At the beginning of the year, hospitals were under enormous strain to deal with the influx of Covid patients.

The Level 5 restrictions are due to be lifted on 5 April, but despite hospital numbers stabalising, the Government must decide between easing very harsh restrictions and keeping the number of Covid-19 cases, hospitalisations, and deaths as low as possible.

The slow pace of the vaccine rollout, due to issues with the vaccine supply chain sourced by the EU, means that the severe restrictions are expected to be in place in Ireland for longer than had been initially hoped. 

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Last week, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn asked the public to do “a little bit more”, after praising the public for their efforts to date to bring cases down. This was met with a heated response from people who argued that the Government needed to do more.

This week, the Government launched the beginning of mandatory hotel quarantine costing €1,800 for 12 nights, and announced four walk-in testing centres in Dublin and one in Tullamore, where a doctor’s referral won’t be needed.

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