Report calls for more robust Covid-19 testing and contact tracing

Committee recommends one-day testing and temperature checks for overseas travellers

The special committee on Covid-19 recommends that  the 14-day quarantine for incoming travellers should be monitored more closely. Photograph: Stephen Collins/ Collins Photos

The special committee on Covid-19 recommends that the 14-day quarantine for incoming travellers should be monitored more closely. Photograph: Stephen Collins/ Collins Photos

 

Changes to make the current system of testing and contact tracing for Covid-19 more robust and efficient are recommended in an Oireachtas report.

All travellers arriving from overseas should have their temperature checked, and healthcare workers should be tested regularly so asymptomatic carriers can be identified, according to the report.

The HSE’s target turnaround time for end-to-end testing should be one day at most, the special committee on Covid-19 has found, while the 14-day quarantine for incoming travellers should be monitored more closely.

The report welcomes the work of the HSE to design a new test and trace service model and says the detail of this plan will be crucial to public health outcomes.

“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,” says committee chairman Michael McNamara.

“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.”

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

“We will need a system that has capacity to deal with a sudden surge in demand which will happen if we get a flu epidemic in the autumn given the overlap on symptoms between the flu and Covid-19, and our already over-crowded hospitals and A&E departments,” deputy McNamara says.

Testing equipment

Other recommendations state that ensuring a sufficient supply of testing equipment should remain a priority, while detailed anonymised data about infections – including geographical and demographic information – should be made public as quickly as possible.

The dangers of unofficial, private virus tests which may not be reliable and could give false confidence, should be emphasised in messaging to the public, the report says.

The report also calls for an ongoing assessment of the technical performance of the HSE’s Covid Tracker app.

The committee held three meetings on the testing and contact tracing issues, and received 15 written submissions from experts in the area.