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Health officials to consider expanding testing criteria for Covid-19 again

The focus now is on residential facilities such as nursing homes.

Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

HEALTH OFFICIALS ARE today considering how they will broaden the case definition for Covid-19 to begin testing more widely in the community again.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will be discussing this issue at its meeting today. 

“Among the things we will be looking at is the question around the case definition and whether we think tomorrow is the right time and what the nature of that change in case definition might be, as we move towards a plan to increase our capacity to detect cases more readily in a circumstance where we have driven down the rates of community transmission,” he said yesterday evening. 

“In other words, to make the case definition more sensitive, more likely to pick up a case, were a case to occur.”

At the start of the epidemic, only those who showed symptoms and had a history of travel to China or certain parts of Italy could be tested. It was later expanded to include anyone who had symptoms, leading to a surge in demand and ultimately a significant backlog of samples that the laboratories in Ireland could not cope with.

Dr Tony Holohan said there were high levels of worry among the population at that time and that generated a large increase in the number of people seeking a test.

“We know that most of those people didn’t have Covid-19 because I think at that time the positivity rates were down to 1, 2, 3%.”

In recent weeks, only those in priority groups, such as healthcare workers or those with  underlying conditions who were showing symptoms could be tested. At the weekend, the health service began testing en masse across residential facilities, with a big focus on nursing home staff and residents. 

Ruairi Brugha, professor of epidemiology and public health medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), said the country can only move to the next stage if people take responsibility for how they behave around distancing measures.

It comes as new evidence indicated people are starting to increase movement and disregard social distancing rules.

Data presented at yesterday’s Department of Health Briefing indicated a surge in the movement of people in the last week.

1472 Covid 19 Source: Leah Farrell

The CMO said modelling data shows it will “take very little” for us to lose the good work we have done.

“There’s no sense in which we have achieved something there that couldn’t all be undone very quickly,” he said. He also said people should not take it as a certainty that restrictions will be relaxed on 5 May.

Professor Brugha warned easing restrictions is “quite complex” and said a lot of steps need to be put in place.

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He told RTE’s Morning Ireland: “Once we reach the point of relaxation, it’s going to determine whether we are going to maintain control of this epidemic or risk a second wave epidemic down the road.

“We can’t keep things as they are and we need to recognise that as we relax certain measures, carefully in a staged way with good monitoring systems in place, we have to double-down on what we need to do around distancing and hygiene.

“The responsibility will be more now on the public than it was previously.

“During what people call the lockdown, which really wasn’t a lockdown, it was actually simpler, it was tough on people, but it was simpler in that people were staying at home and we could distance with our families, the weekly shop to the supermarket, we knew what to do then.

“We can only move into this next stage if people take responsibility for how they engage in more relaxed behaviour, whether it’s going back to work or children going back to school and it isn’t enough to have four-fifths of us actually taking this seriously.

“It only takes a small number of people to behave in a celebratory way. We know that we Irish when we get the opportunity want to be convivial and we want to do it around alcohol and we’ve seen the big increase in alcohol sales.”

He said it only take around 2-3% of the population to behave in an irresponsible way to risk the spread of the virus.

- With reporting from Press Association.

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