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Increased testing demand and an IT legacy issue - What's behind the current lag in reporting Covid-19 cases?

As many as 4,000 additional positive test results have been received which are not yet included in the official case count.

THE NUMBER OF Covid-19 cases in Ireland is likely higher than what has been reported over the last number of days. 

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) last night confirmed a further 1,620 new cases. A total of 3,263 cases were reported on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

These daily cases figures are extracted from the HPSC’s Computerised Infectious Disease Reporting (CIDR) system and then reported to the public by NPHET.   

However, officials have warned of a significant delay between positive test results being processed through CIDR due to delays in people presenting for testing over Christmas.

As many as 4,000 additional positive results have been received which are not yet included in the official case count. 

Chair of NPHET’s Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group Professor Philip Nolan said yesterday that the CIDR system was never designed to process the amount of cases Ireland is currently experiencing. 

In the days preceding Christmas, Nolan explained, the number of cases reported using CIDR was “very close” to the number of positive test results reported in laboratories on each previous day. 

Between 24 and 26 of December, however, very few people presented for testing.

This resulted in a significantly reduced number of laboratory confirmed cases over that three-day period. 

The number of positive cases in laboratories rose sharply “immediately” after Christmas, according to Nolan, resulting in the current backlog of cases to be reported via CIDR.

Around 2,000 positive tests were reported by laboratories on 28 December. This rose to 2,860 on 29 December, Nolan said last night, and to 4,363 on 30 December.

Not all of these positive tests, however, will be reported as cases, they need to be validated first. However, “many of them” will be, Nolan said last night.

“It is going to take several days to confirm all of those cases,” he said. “This in no way interferes with the process of identifying those cases or of contact tracing those cases or managing those cases. It’s simply a question of delays in formal reporting.”

He added that these cases will gradually be included in NPHET’s daily figures over the coming days.

Nolan said that given the level of backlog in reporting cases, Ireland’s epidemiological is “somewhat worse” than daily case counts this week suggest.   

HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry this morning said that essential Public Health actions like notification of close contacts and Contact Tracing is taking place despite the lag in reporting cases.  

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Meanwhile, the HSE has said close contacts of confirmed cases of Covid-19 are no longer being advised to get tested for the coronavirus due to current widespread levels of infection and should instead restrict movements for 14 days. This is a temporary measure.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said this change was made to “support the testing system through this surge”. 

On Wednesday, the HSE processed over 26,000 swabs. More than 2,300 calls were made to people who tested positive for Covid-19 and nearly 11,000 calls were made to close contacts.  

“Testing and tracing is an exercise in containment and we are no longer in a containment phase,” Holohan said. 

However, he stressed that it is “imperative” for close contacts to restrict movements and contact a GP if they develop symptoms. 

“The average number of contacts per case has risen from 2.5 in November to an average in recent days of 6.3.

This is very far from where we need to be and I am appealing to everyone at every age to adhere to the mandated restrictions that the government has introduced – stay at home, except for essential reasons, other than for exercise up to 5km. 

Speaking today, HSE CEO Paul Reid said 15,000 people with symptoms of Covid-19 are being referred for testing per day and warned that the virus is “rampant” across the country.

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