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The National Virus Reference Laboratory is based at University College Dublin. Shutterstock

Covid-19 testing lab to close this weekend over 'unavoidable staff shortages'

The HSE said that the closure would have no impact on testing responses.

LAST UPDATE | 23 Oct 2020

A LARGE COVID-19 testing lab will be closed this weekend, citing “unavoidable staff shortages”. 

The National Virus Reference Laboratory at University College Dublin will not be processing tests this Bank Holiday Weekend, even as health officials warn of the escalating number of Covid-19 cases in Ireland. 

In a statement, the large testing centre said: “Due to unavoidable staff shortages the NVRL will not be able to provide any SARS-CoV-2 testing on the weekends of the 24th/25th and 26th October.”

The testing centre will also not be open on the weekend of the 31 October. 

“Apologies for the late notice and for any inconvenience this may cause,” the statement said. 

A spokesperson for the HSE insisted that this closure would have “no negative impact on testing responses as we are still working within our available capacity”.

The staffing shortage comes following a number of coronavirus cases among staff at the testing centre. 

“The HSE cannot comment on individual cases or outbreaks to protect the privacy and confidentiality of those involved,” the spokesperson said. “However, contingency plans have been in place in the event of an outbreak in the laboratory, since March. NVRL have split their teams in two to ensure there would not be widespread transmission of the virus and that there would be a continuation of services.”

According to the latest data, 17,746 tests have been carried out in the last 24 hours, with nearly 117,000 completed in the last seven days. 

The HSE said that the National Virus Reference Laboratory processes around 600 swabs per day. 

“Over the course of this weekend and next these swabs will be completed by community labs,” the spokesperson said. 

The news has already been criticised by opposition politicians. Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly, speaking in the Dáil, asked the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly if anything had been done to address the staff shortage. 

She said it was “very concerning”. 

“We’ve already seen a shambles with regard to the tracing,” she said. “Testing is absolutely essential.”

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said the situation was “very serious” given the rise in cases. 

He called on the health minister “to state how this will affect the processing of tests and outline what contingency measures will be put in place to ensure that all Covid tests are processed in a timely manner”. 

Yesterday, 1,066 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Ireland. Chief Medical Offer Dr Tony Holohan said the country was now at Level 5 restrictions because the disease is at “very serious levels in our country and posing a significant risk to public health”.

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