80% of people are getting PCR test within 24 hours - Donnelly

People refusing to wear mask on trains giving ‘two fingers’ to society, says TD in Dáil debate

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said ‘four in every five people’ were getting the test within a day.  Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said ‘four in every five people’ were getting the test within a day. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins


Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has told the Dáil that 80 per cent of people are getting a PCR test within 24 hours.

He also said that 97 per cent of prioritised referrals for close contacts or referrals from GPs are getting the test within 24 hours.

As complaints raged about delays in getting a test, the Minister said the system in place in Ireland was “one of the most comprehensive” PCR systems in place and 210,000 tests had been conducted in the past week, representing one in every 25 men, women and children in the State.

He said that “four in every five people” were getting the test within a day. He added “the one in five are the people” who are contacting Ministers and TDs.

Mr Donnelly said he heard colleagues “loud and clear” and understood people’s anxiety about the delays for some in getting the PCR test but he said the HSE was making every effort to improve the situation.

The median end-to-end timeframe “not detected” test was 1.1 days and for a “detected” test 2.1 days “so the system is still moving very, very fast”.

The Minister was speaking as he wound up a three-hour debate on the pandemic and the Government’s latest measures to deal with the crisis.

Referring to booster vaccines, he said the rate of vaccination of those in their 60s, of whom 33,000 had been injected, “will start increasing rapidly because the five months [interim] period kicks in now”.

On antigen testing he said the information the department had was that “one in five people are using an antigen test every week”. For close contacts of those confirmed with the virus, more than 70,000 tests had been issued.

But he said that only one in three people who had received a positive antigen test was going for a PCR test. Public health experts were concerned that If not used right they reduce the number of people who need to be doing tests.

Referring to intensive care unit (ICU) capacity, he said the health system started the pandemic with 255 beds. Some €52 million had been spent in the past two year to increase capacity, which was currently at 297 and would be 340 by the end of next year “or early into the following year”.

Vulnerable groups

Earlier, Mr Donnelly said the booster vaccine would be rolled out from next week to those with underlying conditions.

Mr Donnelly told the Dáil that they were “one group I was very keen to be offered a booster vaccine quickly”. The HSE confirmed the move and have been “working through the details” with the Department of Health. “I’ll have more to share soon on this” but it will start from next week, he said.

In the debate Fianna Fail TD Cathal Crowe said people who refused to wear a mask on public transport were giving “two-fingers” to society.

He hit out at people who refuse to wear a mask on trains. Mr Crowe said he was “absolutely appalled” to see so many people not wearing masks on the train from Limerick to Dublin.

“Wearing a mask has never been a sacrifice. What’s the big deal in this, putting two strings behind your ears and wearing it for the one hour and 50 minutes you’re on the train.” He said he handed out masks on the train to a family did not have them.

He said “it’s a two-fingers to society. It’s an affront to health workers, it’s an affront to science and it’s a downright insult” to the families of the 5,609 people who died with Covid.

“For God’s sake wear a mask. It’s a simple requirement and if you can’t for medical reasons, well then there’s a cert. Well get the damn cert and don’t go on the train or go into shops and putting up videos on social media every evening.

“We’re seeing it every evening. ‘This rule doesn’t apply to me’ and challenging others to come out and support them.”

Minister of State Mary Butler paid tribute to GPs administering booster vaccines to those over 80. She said that of the 161,000 people in this age group 134,000 have received a booster vaccine.

GPs are administering boosters to the 336,000 to those over 70 of whom nearly 172,300 have received boosters, she said.

Vaccination in long-term care including nursing homes was substantially completed since the end of October.

“The 60 to 69 year old group are now being vaccinated through vaccination centres with over 33,000 vaccines administered to date. The expect the expectation is that this group will be substantially completed by the end of December in relation to the home vaccination service.”

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane said 21 PCR centres had no capacity on Wednesday or Thursday for tests. Waterford, Kilkenny, Wexford or Tipperary could not get a test for 48 hours, he said.

He said he did not think people were going to make a decision to “hoard dozens of antigen tests” as he called on the Minister to “make a quick decision” to issue them to the public free.

Labour health spokesman Duncan Smith expressed concern that “we’re operating as if this wave is going to be our last”. He said everyone hoped that it was going to be the last “but we have to plan as the WHO (World Health Organisation) has said for it to last until 2023”.