Written answers

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Photo of Joe O'BrienJoe O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Green Party)
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198. To ask the Minister for Health if consideration has been given to prioritising nursing and care home visitors for rapid Covid-19 testing when it becomes available in order to allow persons spend time with their loved ones; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37317/20]

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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The Health Service Executive has adopted RNA PCR as the gold standard test for diagnosing Covid-19 cases, as part of the HSE test and trace strategy, consistent with international best practice, and approved by NPHET.  This platform is deployed in acute hospitals, the NVRL and HSE’s commercial partners. Given the volumes required, these operate as batch tests and hence take a number of hours depending on the platform and the volume being processed.

The HSE has worked intensively over the last number of months to put in place a comprehensive testing and tracing operation. We now have on-island capacity to test up to 126,000 people per week, which can be increased to 140,000 per week if the demand requires. It should be noted that testing for Sars-Cov2 does not confirm

Ireland is pursuing a robust testing strategy under the guidance of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). On an ongoing basis, NPHET considers and reviews, based on public health risk assessments, how best to target testing to hunt the virus in populations where it’s most likely and where it will do most harm. 

Many of the rapid Covid tests reported in the public domain and in the media which purport to offer a test result in minutes (for example antigen tests) lack the sensitivity and specificity required for healthcare. The HSE is constantly monitoring the sensitivity of all types of tests that are available (e.g. antigen and saliva tests) to ensure that, if deployed, they would be of appropriate quality and sensitivity. This issue continues to be monitored by the WHO, ECDC, HIQA, and the HSE Laboratory taskforce. 

It should be noted that testing for Covid-19 only provides a point-in-time result. It confers no guarantee that an individual with a 'not detected' result is not incubating the infection or the level of virus is below detectable levels at the time of the test. It is for this reason, for example, that testing of close contacts of a confirmed case is carried out on two separate occasions, when they are first identified and again 7 days after their last contact with the person.

The testing strategy in use in Ireland remains under consideration by NPHET on an ongoing basis.


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