A lack of community testing for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland is putting the island of Ireland at risk, a public health expert has said.
Dr Gabriel Scally, president of epidemiology and public health at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, said plans to control the virus remain different between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
He told Newstalk FM: “The big differences are still here in a big way. The WHO (World Health Organisation) have put out three questions to ask: is the outbreak under control, is the healthcare system able to cope if there’s a resurgence, and is there a system to detect and manage cases of their contacts and identify if there is a flare up in a local area.
“That just isn’t present anywhere in the UK, so the outbreak isn’t really under control.
“Certainly in the North, and the rest of the UK, they’re not doing testing in the community. Unless you can test in the community, how are you going to know if the infection is coming back unless you wait until people are carried in sick into hospitals?”
Dr Scally said the difference in isolation times and testing between Northern Ireland and the Republic “needs to be sorted”.
He added: “If you get the virus in Strabane in Co Tyrone you will be told to isolate for seven days. If you get it in Lifford in Co Donegal, you will be told, in keeping with WHO advice, to isolate for 14 days.
“That sort of thing is crazy, but the biggest one has to be the testing and the North really need to sort that out because it puts both parts of the island in jeopardy of this virus going on far longer than it needs to.”
Health officials in the Republic of Ireland are hoping to be in a position to carry out 15,000 tests a day from next week.
It comes as the HSE’s chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said on Tuesday that more work is needed to reduce the time between the ordering of a test to the completion of contact tracing, from the current median of five days.
Dr Henry said the turnaround for tests carried out on patients in hospital settings is around 24 hours but he said more complex cases, involving people in the community, are taking longer than they should.
The coronavirus death toll in Ireland rose to 1,488 on Tuesday after a further 24 deaths were announced.
Another 107 positive cases were confirmed, taking the total since the outbreak began to 23,242.