Five new “walk-in” Covid-19 testing centres opening on Thursday are aimed at catching asymptomatic cases of the virus in “a broader sweep of the population,” the HSE has said.
The testing centres are located in areas with high incidence rates of the disease, four Dublin and one in Tullamore, Co Offaly, to identify more cases of infection and to prevent further spread.
“We are looking at really small geographic areas where we know we have challenges in terms of the prevalence of the disease,” said Niamh O’Beirne, the HSE’s lead on testing and tracing.
The Dublin centres are located at Irishtown Stadium in Ringsend, Tallaght Stadium, the National Aquatic Centre in Blanchardstown and the HSE's Phoenix Care Centre in Grangegorman in north inner-city Dublin.
The Tullamore centre will be located at the Aura Leisure Centre.
“The disease is moving quite quickly in these areas and while public health doctors are aware of outbreaks, they want to do a broader sweep of the population,” said Ms O’Beirne.
About one in five people who test positive for the virus have no symptoms so “could be positive without knowing it and spreading it unwittingly to others,” she said.
Senior Government official Liz Canavan said the centres were being set up to "actively look for cases" of the virus and they are open to people living within 5km of the testing location.
The centres will be open from 11am to 7pm for seven days and could be extended beyond a week if there is a high demand for testing.
The HSE is carrying out about 100,000 Covid-19 tests a week and is using the excess capacity of up to 70,000 more tests a week to carry out more widespread testing of the population in an effort to identify undetected cases.
The centres are aimed at people who do not have GPs or who may be reluctant to contact a doctor to be referred for a Covid-19 test because they have only mild symptoms.
People attending will be asked to bring a photo ID and their mobile phone number so that they can be contacted with their result. Sick people are still encouraged to contact their doctors.
“They are looking for people locally, but if people are willing to come in for a test, they’re asymptomatic – we’re happy to test them,” said Ms Canavan.
“We will see how it goes, they will moderate the model depending on how it is going. They are focused on the 5km because the limit of your travel at the moment.”
Dr Miriam Owens, director of public health for the HSE's CHO9 community health area covering north Dublin city and county, said she hoped the centres would "pick up people who don't overtly have symptoms of Covid-19" and who "wouldn't necessarily present for testing."
“What we are seeing is people moving around with symptoms and while this is happening, we are not going to get on top of the numbers,” she said.
“We are hoping this message will get out to people who are perhaps reluctant to bother a GP and see where things are spreading and prevent them spreading sooner than we ordinarily can.”
She described the infection rate in Blanchardstown, Mulhuddart and adjacent areas as "extremely high", with the new testing centre opening to try to "pinpoint" infections there.
Dr Owens described the north Dublin area as “the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic” representing 13 per cent of the country, and up to 22 per cent of cases nationwide.
“When you wait for a case to be identified, that person has already infected people, especially if they have been ignoring very mild symptoms,” she said.
Walk-ins could be the “worried well” such as people with a headache or a slight temperature or cough, but testing them more quickly could take them out of circulation, she said.