Coronavirus: Irish government changes testing criteria

By Shane Harrison
BBC NI Dublin correspondent

Image source, AFP

The Republic of Ireland is to change the criteria for testing for Covid-19 after its chief medical officer said the net had been cast “too widely”.

Dr Tony Holohan said patients will have to display two major symptoms rather than one before they are tested.

They will have to have a fever and at least one other sign of a respiratory problem.

On Wednesday, it was confirmed there were 1,564 cases in the Irish Republic and that nine people had died.

Tests in future will also concentrate on different categories of patient.

These are healthcare workers, those who have been in close contact with a confirmed case, those from vulnerable groups including the elderly, and those with underlying medical conditions.

The latest figures confirm 26% of confirmed cases are health workers, 47% got it from community transmission, 23% from close contact with a confirmed case and 31% from travel abroad.

Rising test numbers

Of those who tested positive, 55% are men and 45% are women with a median age of 46.

Dr Holohan said 17,992 tests had been carried out, with 93% of results coming back negative.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Tony Holohan said there was evidence social distancing was working

About 2,000 people are being tested daily, next week that figure will rise to 3,000 and then to 15,000 in the coming weeks.

As of the weekend there was a backlog of about 40,000 people.

At that point about 20,000 were being referred daily.

Drop in close contacts

Apart from hospitals and medical locations there are 41 test centres, including include Croke Park and other sporting grounds, as well as Irish naval bases.

Dr Holohan said there was evidence social distancing measures were working, even though more progress needs to be made.

He told Tuesday's briefing the average number of close contacts for each confirmed case has dropped from 20 plus at the start of the crisis to about five.

In his St Patrick’s Day national address, Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said his government expected a surge in Covid-19, with as many as 15,000 cases by the end of this month.