Struggling HSE agrees deal with German lab to boost Covid-19 testing capacity

Move to create ‘surge capacity’ after demand for swabs approaches 15,000 daily limit

 The weekly figures reached a new high of almost 84,000 Covid-19 tests processed last week.  File photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins

The weekly figures reached a new high of almost 84,000 Covid-19 tests processed last week. File photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins

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The Health Service Executive is sourcing additional Covid-19 testing capacity as the system struggles to cope with the current surge in demand.

It 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 – if they are needed.

Demand for testing almost reached the 15,000 a day limit last Thursday, Friday and Saturday, as the weekly figures reached a new high of almost 84,000 tests processed.

While the deal with a lab operated by Eurofins Biomnis will increase capacity, sending tests will add to the time it takes to get 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.

A further 396 cases were reported yesterday – the highest daily figure since mid-May, with 274 reported on Saturday. The number of hospitalised patients has increased to 79, and those in ICU to 16.

Despite the rise in cases, pubs not serving food will be permitted to open today, for the first time since mid-March, in all counties other than Dublin.

Minister of Higher Education Simon Harris said Ireland would be in a “very bad place” if more than 100,000 tests per week were required.

Speaking on The Week in Politics on RTÉ, Mr Harris said the State was now testing more people than most European countries, with 14,000 tests per day.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid reportedly told Government Ministers at a Cabinet Covid-19 subcommittee last week the current testing system would not be able to cope with a surge in demand over the coming weeks.

Separately, Minister for Climate Action Éamon Ryan said there was a “possibility” of other counties having their status elevated to Level 3 alongside Dublin.

While Dublin has the highest incidence of the virus and is under special restrictions, acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn warned last night that case numbers in Louth, Donegal and Waterford are “already high and continuing to rise fast”.

Meanwhile, the head of the HSE’s contact tracing service Kilian McGrane said it was now at its busiest since the peak of the outbreak, with 2,000 calls per day made to close contacts.

Mr McGrane said the calls to close contacts have also become more complex, with contact tracers being met with frustration on the other side of the line.

“People are unhappy to receive the call telling them they are close contacts now compared to when lockdown was in place,” he said. “They are frustrated and angry to receive it because they have to take two tests and [self-isolate].”

The number of calls made by tracers has doubled in the past fortnight from 4,600 per week to more than 10,500.

A spokesman for Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said yesterday the downward adjustment from €350 to €300 for the highest level of the Covid-19 unemployment payment (PUP) would go ahead this week, despite renewed calls from Opposition parties for it to be retained.

The spokesman did not rule out changes being made to the PUP in the budget in three weeks’ time.

Imelda Munster of Sinn Féin, Aodhán Ó Riordáin of Labour, and Paul Murphy of Rise called yesterday for the higher payment to be restored immediately.

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