Covid cases confirmation backlog disguising real number – researcher

Headline figures on coronavirus giving public ‘completely wrong idea’, says Dr Elaine Doyle

A mounting backlog in confirming new cases of Covid-19 in Ireland is disguising the "frankly terrifying" real number of infections, one researcher has warned.

Dr Elaine Doyle, a writer and former academic whose social media posts comparing the outbreak in the Republic and the UK went viral online, said headline figures on coronavirus are giving the public a "completely wrong idea".

Just how quickly the virus is spreading through the country is “beyond our worst nightmares” with actual figures likely more than double the official tally, she said.

Hospital Report

Referring to data from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on New Year’s Day that showed 1,754 daily new cases, Dr Doyle said a further 5,573 positive swabs the same day had yet to be verified due to a backlog.


“That is an astronomical figure. It is beyond our worst fears, it is beyond our worst nightmares, it is absolutely huge,” she said.

Positive cases have to be verified in case they are double counted, for example, whereby a person had more than one test, or to check that the time lag between testing and verification means they are no longer contagious.

Nphet has said there is an overall backlog of 9,000 cases which have yet to be verified because of a spike in transmission over Christmas.

Official figures ‘stalling’

Dr Doyle said between 5 and 10 per cent end up not being verified.

“If we had 5,500 positive swabs in a day, and 10 per cent maximum are duplicates or, for some reason, have to be removed from the official tally - that means we have the guts of 5,000 new cases in one day,” she said.

“The headline figure of 1,754 gives the completely wrong idea to people. They are still alarmed but they have no idea about the way in which this is rising exponentially, that we are riding a wave vertically at this point.”

Official figures are “stalling around the 1,700 mark” because the case management system can only deal with so many new cases, meaning Ireland has no “real time statistics about what is actually happening on the ground.”

“People are not getting the shock value of finding out there are 5,000 new cases a day and not adapting their behaviour accordingly, and more more importantly, the Government is not being held to account for levels previously unimaginable,” Dr Doyle said.

The positivity rate of tests was also “a huge neon flashing light”, she added.

Dr Doyle pointed to advice from the World Health Organisation earlier in the year that the rate of positives among tests carried out in any country should not rise above 5 per cent because that means "losing track of following community spread".

Latest Nphet figures put Ireland’s positivity rate at 20.74 per cent on 26,866 swabs.

“When test positivity is that high we are riding blind,” said Dr Doyle.

“We have no idea where the virus is anymore. When you have a test positivity rate above 20 per cent and 5,000 new cases a day, it means it has just exploded. It absolutely has exploded.”