HSE asks 5,000 people to take part in Covid-19 antibody study

Initial results expected in late August to measure prevalence of virus in population

More than 5,000 people in Dublin and Sligo are to be invited to give blood samples from Monday as part of the first study aiming to determine the prevalence of Covid-19 in the population.

The seroprevalence study, which will measure exposure to the virus using an antibody blood test, involves a representative sample of people from areas with higher and lower levels of infection.

So far, the only testing that has been done in Ireland has been to determine if a person is infected with the virus.

While the presence of antibodies afford some protection, it does not guarantee immunity.


Initial results are expected in late August and will enable the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) estimate the prevalence of infection of Covid-19 in the population across different age groups.

The HSE noted the presence of antibodies indicated that a person was infected with the COVID-19 virus, irrespective of whether the individual had severe or mild disease, or even asymptomatic infection.

It said the study “will add to our knowledge about how long antibodies last and what protection they may provide against new infection of Covid-19”.

Dr Cillian de Gascun, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, said to ensure that the study included people of all ages, both males and females, who broadly represented the wider population, a random sample of the population was being selected.

“Therefore, the study is not open to volunteers from the general public and the HSE encourages those who receive a letter to consider participating,” the HSE added.

From Monday, residents in nursing homes will be able to receive visits from family members for the first time since blanket restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 were imposed three months ago.

Under new rules, visitors will have to confirm they have no virus symptoms before entering a nursing home. Visits will be staggered and limited to less than 30 minutes, with each visitor allowed one visit per week. Children under 16 will not be allowed to make visits.

Residents will be limited to two named visitors, who must undergo temperature checks beforehand.

Retail units in shopping centres are also due to reopen on Monday, provided they have put in place measures to prevent the spread of infection. The measure was brought forward from August under the Government’s decision to speed up the roadmap for easing restrictions.

Face coverings

The Irish College of General Practitioners has called on the public to use face coverings when shopping and on public transport.

“While full scientific evidence is not yet available on the efficacy of face coverings, we are encouraging people to use them when possible, as they are another barrier against transmission of the virus,” said Dr Nuala O’Connor of the ICGP. “They do not replace the measures we know with greater certainty stop the virus spreading – 2m social distancing, practicing good hand hygiene and cough etiquette.”

People should take immediate action if they have even mild symptoms of Covid-19, such as cough, mild fever or dry throat, she also advised.

One more person has died in the Republic from coronavirus, the Department of Health said on Sunday. The daily update by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) reported eight new cases, bringing the total number of cases to 25,303.

There have now been a total 1,706 Covid-19 related deaths in the Republic of Ireland.

The team meets later this week to review progress towards easing restrictions, and in countering the spread of the disease. Based on its recommendations, the Government will decide whether to bring forward any further easing of restrictions to the third phase of the plan on June 29th.

Meanwhile, a wholesale food market in the Chinese capital Beijing where traces of the virus were detected, was closed at the weekend. Nearby housing estates were also placed under quarantine after authorities detected 36 new coronavirus cases in the city and another 19 across the country. The discovery sparked fears of a possible second wave of a virus that was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December but which appeared to be declining in the country by March as most of the world entered lockdowns.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.