Thursday, 10 December 2020
Department of Health
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 the National Public Health Emergency Team (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 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 Health Information and Quality Authority recently published a rapid Health Technology Assessment (HTA) into antigen testing. The review confirmed that antigen tests available to date show reduced diagnostic accuracy compared with RT-PCR but more recently developed tests are worth validating now in Ireland. Following the completion of the HTA, the National Public Health Emergency Team asked the HSE to establish an Antigen Project Validation Working Group, the aim of which is to validate the antigen tests in the market and evaluate the public health deployment options. Work is ongoing in this regard.
Ireland is pursuing a robust testing strategy under the guidance of NPHET. 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. The testing strategy in use in Ireland remains under consideration by NPHET on an ongoing basis.