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Covid-19: Ireland is still way short of its testing targets, but where do we rank globally?

Ireland has now completed 42,484 tests for Covid-19.

Dr Cillian De Gascun of the National Virus Reference Laboratory.
Dr Cillian De Gascun of the National Virus Reference Laboratory.
Image: RollingNews.ie

THE DEPARTMENT OF Health has said this evening that Ireland has completed 42,484 tests for Covid-19 as of midnight last night. 

That number is up from a figure of 30,213 provided by the department this day last week. 

The numbers mean that 12,271 tests have been completed in the past week, still some way short of the stated goal of 15,000 tests per day. 

Speaking at press briefing this evening, Dr Cillian De Gascun of the National Virus Reference Laboratory said that the country is still “a number of weeks away” from reaching that target of 15,000 tests per day. 

He estimated that the country hopes to reach that capacity “over the next three to four weeks”. 

“Our difficulties with testing have been well documented but I think it’s important to highlight that we are still testing at a significant rate and that number of 12,271 actually accounts for about 40% of all of the testing that we’ve done to date has been done in the last week and that’s across the country,” De Gascun said.

A fortnight ago the Department of Health tightened its testing criteria in an effort to find more people who have the coronavirus. 

After making that change, positivity rate for coronavirus testing increased from 6% t0 15% and the department said this evening that that rate has increased again to 19%.

Health officials have said on a number of occasions that the number of tests carried out in Ireland puts the country in the “top tier” in terms of testing. 

Speaking yesterday evening, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn again said that Ireland’s numbers are among the highest internationally. 

“When you examine Ireland tests per million. We are in the top-tier obviously that changes day on day and it changes week on week,” Glynn said.

So when we give the figure tomorrow then that can go into those reporting tools and our performance against other countries can be assessed. But what’s been very clear, over the past period is that the issues we’ve had around testing notwithstanding, we’re still testing very significantly greater numbers proportionately than many other countries are doing. 

As Glynn mentioned, the common approach to gauging testing rates across countries with different population is by giving the figure per million of population. 

The 42,484 tests carried out in Ireland gives the country a testing rate of 8,663 tests per million. Last week, Ireland was at a testing rate of 6,165 tests per million. 

The UK’s Department of Health today confirmed that 213,181 tests have been completed, giving it a testing rate of 3,199 tests per million.  

full-list-cumulative-total-tests-per-million (2) Testing rates globally as per Monday (Ireland not included). Source: https://ourworldindata.org/

By way of comparison, Our World in Data collates the testing rates across a range of countries worldwide. 

Judging by those numbers across a range of developed countries, Ireland comes in with similar testing levels as countries such as Denmark and South Korea and ahead of some EU peers but behind some of the leading countries worldwide. 

Speaking this evening, Glynn said the department hasn’t yet compared Ireland’s testing numbers “vis-a-vis” other countries. 

“I’m happy to come back and answer that question for you tomorrow,” he said.

Chief Clinical Officer at the HSE Dr Colm Henry added that testing strategies across different countries “are not the same”. 

“From early on in this country there’s been a testing strategy, notwithstanding the difficulties we faced, and in other countries there hasn’t been the same focus in testing. Yet the WHO have been very clear that a significant linchpin in the battle against Covid-19 is testing,” he said. 

DeGascun also said this evening that the wait-time for people who aren’t healthcare workers or in hospital to get test results after being swabbed was “in the region of seven to 10 days”. 

“We are prioritising cases from hospitals and healthcare workers because of the limitations on our capacity, turnaround time for those individuals is probably still in the region of 24 to 48 hours I would imagine,” he said 

Asked by TheJournal.ie about delays for people getting results back after being swabbed, Henry acknowledged that “difficulties with our testing at lab level” has led to “increased turnaround times”. 

“We’re confident now based on the other suppliers we have a mainland Europe that we’re able to shorten those turnaround times down to a much more acceptable level,” he added. 

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy

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Rónán Duffy

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