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Government expects Covid-19 test backlog to be cleared by the end of next week

Minister for Health Simon Harris said around 16,000 outsourced tests have already been returned from Germany.
Apr 11th 2020, 1:53 PM 25,098 75

MINISTER FOR HEALTH Simon Harris has said that government restrictions imposed to combat the spread of Covid-19 will be lifted in a “mixed” way whenever they are removed. 

Speaking at the Department of Health this morning, Harris also revealed that he expected Ireland’s backlog of coronavirus tests to be cleared by the end of next week.

The minister told reporters that between 25,000 and 30,000 tests have already been sent to Germany for analysis, and that around 16,000 of these have already been returned.

“To be very clear to the Irish people, it is our hope our expectation and our plan that by the end of next week, any backlog in relation to testing will have been addressed,” Harris said.

Latest figures from the department show that around 60,000 tests for coronavirus have already been completed. The health service now has capacity to test around 7,000 people a day.

However, the system has been beset by delays in recent weeks, with supply issues in relation to reagents – the chemicals needed for the testing process in laboratories – among the factors blamed. 

Harris said that the government’s aim was to allow people to get their test results within 48 hours, and to broaden the case definition for the coronavirus, which would widen the number of people able to be tested.

He also said the government aimed to test around 15,000 people a day in the coming weeks:

We need to say, if you need a test, can you get a test and a result within 48 hours. That’s where we have to get the system to, because the number of tests a day will change.

Lifting restrictions

The minister also suggested that Ireland may have to learn to live “alongside” the coronavirus when restrictions are eventually lifted.

 

He said the government hoped to increase testing to a point that it could lift restrictions gradually, even if the virus continued to spread in Ireland.

It is hoped that doing so will allow new confirmed cases to be isolated in order to minimise the number of new infections.

Harris pointed to other countries, particularly the Czech Republic and Denmark, who are gradually lifting restrictions to allow society to return to normal, but said Ireland would not lift restrictions it had imposed in backwards order. 

“Can you just do the reverse order? [The] short answer is it’s probably not quite that simple,” he said.

“It’d probably be a blended mix of measures that you’d be trying, and you’d be trying it in a very careful way. But to be clear, we’re not going to do this until we believe it is safe to do so.

“And when we do it, we’ll have to be honest with people that we’re going to do it. We’re going to monitor it very carefully, and if it doesn’t work we’re going to have to revert.”

Harris was speaking to launch a new mental health initiative to support those dealing with the impact of the coronavirus and government restrictions.

The minister said an extra €1 million had been allocated to the HSE for online counselling, including for healthcare workers, while a list of supports and information have are available on a new government website.

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