The HSE has reached a deal with a German lab to create “surge capacity” to carry out up to 2,000 additional Covid-19 tests a day – beyond the current daily capacity of 15,000 tests – should demand for community testing require it over the winter period.
The agreement is based on modelling of potential testing needs if infections continue to rise during the winter flu season, while maintaining serial testing at nursing homes, meat plants and direct provision centres over the coming months.
Demand for coronavirus tests is still within the daily laboratory capacity of 15,000 tests, despite a surge in GP referrals for schoolchildren showing Covid-19 symptoms over the past two weeks as schools reopened and an increase in other suspected coronavirus infections.
State health figures show that labs carried out 14,600, 14,500 and 14,100 tests on Thursday, Friday and Saturday respectively with weekly testing reaching a new high of almost 84,000 tests in the seven days to Saturday, still within the weekly capacity of 100,000 tests.
The existing 15,000 daily lab testing capacity already includes 1,200 tests a day carried out within the State by an Irish lab operated by the German lab Eurofins Biomnis.
The HSE has contracted the company to carry out up to 2,000 additional daily tests at its German lab should testing demand exceed the daily 15,000 capacity in the State.
Sending samples offshore will, however, increase the median turnaround time on test results.
Hospitals are also being equipped by the HSE to increase their own testing capacity with more testing kits being supplied to carry out up to 5,000 tests a day, up from 3,500 currently.
There have been about 14,000 GP referrals for tests for symptomatic people on each of the last two Mondays, pushing the lab testing system to capacity on some days.
The HSE is also carrying out about 2,000 tests a day in nursing homes, 1,000 in meat plants and 500 in direct provision centres – all congregated settings susceptible to the virus.
The meat plants involve weekday testing following working hours; in the other two settings, mass testing is spread over seven days.