Testing capacity must be able to meet demand when flu season arrives, finds Covid committee report

DUE TO THE overlap of symptoms with flu and Covid-19, testing capacity must be able to meet demand, finds an Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 report..

The interim report also recommends that the current testing and tracing system should be changed to ensure it more robust and efficient.

The report warns the test and trace system is facing two “severe stress tests” in the coming months: travel into and within the State, and flu season.

The committee also states that the HSE’s target turnaround time for end-to-end testing should be at most one day.

Temperature screening of all entrants into the State from overseas should be introduced, states the the report.

Regular testing of all healthcare workers to identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus is also recommended. 

Free flu vaccines and face masks should also be provided to the public, or at a reduced cost, to improve the effectiveness of public health measures.

It terms of testing, the report finds that international examples, such as in Germany and Melbourne, Australia, show that areas which have the virus under control can quickly experience infection hotspots.

These can “leave authorities scrambling to increase testing capacity. Therefore, ability to respond quickly to flare-ups with robust testing capacity in place is crucial”.

The evidence presented to the committee finds that Europe will continue to see new outbreaks of the disease, and public monitoring will be necessary to ensure they remain as “manageable outbreaks” rather than becoming significant resurgences.

Detailed anonymised data about infections – including geographical and demographic information – should be made public as quickly as possible, the report finds.

Chairman of the Committee, Independent TD Michael McNamara, TD said:

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“The Committee understands that the system that was put in place in March was done in a hurry and a lot of contingency measures had to be taken given the risk of a pandemic sweeping the State. Because of the efforts of all our people, those measures were not needed, but what became clear to the Committee is that another lockdown would be unsustainable. Testing and contact tracing will allow the State to live with and treat outbreaks of Covid as they arise.”

He said the system needs have the capacity to deal with a sudden surge in demand which could happen with the arrival of flu season in the autumn and the overlap on symptoms between the flu and Covid-19.

The total cost of Covid-19 testing to date is €84 million.

That capacity target is maintained at 100,000 tests per week. This target is set to be reassessed at the end of the month.

If the 100,000 per week capacity of testing is maintained until the end of the year, it will cost an additional €375 million. 

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