Equipment from China will allow for rapid testing service for virus

Extra equipment means Ireland is not reliant on a single supply system, says Dr Paul O’Brien

Prof Paddy Mallon, consultant in infectious diseases, said the aim was to put in place nationally a system to provide test results within 24 hours by early May. Photograph:  Reuters/Lindsey Wasson

Prof Paddy Mallon, consultant in infectious diseases, said the aim was to put in place nationally a system to provide test results within 24 hours by early May. Photograph: Reuters/Lindsey Wasson

 

Testing equipment newly sourced from China will allow for hundreds of thousands of people to be tested for Covid-19 as well as increasing turnaround times.

The equipment was secured through a collaboration between individual Irish doctors and agencies in Ireland and China, and medical contacts there.

The 19 PCR testing machines along with supplies of reagent, which are being distributed to laboratories nationally, will allow for the rollout of a rapid testing service for the virus, doctors say.

Dr Paddy Mallon, consultant in infectious diseases at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, said the aim was, together with the HSE, to put in place nationally a system to provide test results within 24 hours by early May.

The Government’s restrictive measures run until May 4th, and may be eased thereafter, but an effective mass testing regime along with efficient contact tracing are seen as essential before this can take place.

Dr Paul O’Brien, a regulatory expert on China who was centrally involved in helping procure the equipment, said Ireland now had the capacity to perform extra Covid-19 tests thanks to the equipment sourced in China and paid for by the Health Service Executive.

“It means we’re not reliant on a single supply system any more,” Dr O’Brien said on Monday. He explained how contacts he developed while training in China, along with support from the IDA, were used in sourcing the testing equipment, which was then flown to Ireland by Aer Lingus. The National Virus Reference Library has completed extensive due diligence on the equipment, which is of “gold standard” quality, he said.

Procurement process

Dr O’Brien, who studied medicine in China, arranged teleconferences with hospitals there, which were telecast by RTÉ and attended by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin for “gravitas”, he said. As a result, the Chinese were “very impressed” Ireland was trying to copy some of their strategies, and this made the procurement process easier.

Prof Mallon told RTÉ Radio the new equipment and reagent meant “we have the supply to do literally hundreds of thousands of extractions”.

“Containment of this infection is key to us getting out of the lockdown safely, if we have testing operating at a high volume, and the reproduction number less than 1, then we’re in a position to test our way out of this.

“It’s up now to the HSE to co-ordinate so someone who wakes up on a Monday morning with symptoms can get access to a swab, to process that swab, and to feed back the result within 24 hours. This needs to happen between now and the start of May,” said Prof Mallon.

Separate from processing issues, there have also been delays in swabbing people suspected of having the virus, but the HSE says these have been resolved.

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