Ireland’s health authorities are “actively considering” a relaxation of the Covid-19 testing threshold in order to get more people tested, the chief medical officer said this evening.
Dr Tony Holohan acknowledged that the fact that many testing centres are idle is “one of the big issues”, but said the situation is unlikely to change this week.
The testing criteria for the virus has changed on multiple occasions, from being for anyone who was feeling sick, to people experiencing a fever and at least one respiratory symptom, to only those with underlying conditions and who were displaying symptoms.
That has seen the numbers of people presenting for testing spike initially before slowing to a trickle at present.
That news comes as Ireland recorded a further 38 deaths from the virus, bringing its overall toll to 444.
Meanwhile, 1,068 new confirmed cases were announced by Dr Holohan, 657 of which came from Irish laboratories, and 411 from German testing facilities, bringing the overall total of cases in Ireland to 12,547.
The death toll announced is the second-highest to date, second only to the previous day’s figure of 44.
Dr Holohan said that 150 people are currently in intensive care with the virus in Irish hospitals. He said, further, that 290 people have died thus far from the illness, with their cases originating in either nursing homes or residential care settings.
The figure for nursing homes alone, a sector which has been hit especially hard by the virus, is 245.
Earlier it emerged that 110 people remain on ventilators in hospitals due to the virus, a figure that has held steady at the same mark for over two weeks, suggesting that to date Ireland’s supply of the lifesaving equipment has proven sufficient.
At the same time 133 critical care beds are currently available across the country, from a stock of 414, with 275 either occupied or reserved.
Dr Holohan said that in recent days there had been a “significant drop” in the number of testing referrals from primary care settings such as GP surgeries, and added that he expects the majority of future cases to emerge from institutional settings.
He said that social distancing as we have come to know it “will be around as long as is necessary”, with the best hope being “the emergence of a candidate vaccine, but being realistic that is going to be a lengthy period of time”.
Asked about the possibility of reinfection from the disease, Dr Holohan said “we think there’s a good chance that if you have an infection it is likely to confer immunity”.
“What the world doesn’t know is what the strength of that immunity is or how long it will last,” he said.
He said that all deaths attributable to legacy test results only now being received back from Germany have been accounted for. He added that almost all of the tests sent to German laboratories have now been received back.
Dr Holohan acknowledged further that should the 2020 flu season arrive early (as was the case last year), the health service would be facing “a significant problem, one we are actively planning for).
The main thrust of that planning would involve a ramping up in the participatory rate regarding the seasonal flu vaccine, particularly for healthcare workers, he said.