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Concerns over test turnaround times will not delay exit plan – Holohan

The chief medical officer acknowledged there was room for improvement in reducing the time the test-and-trace process takes.

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Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan in Government Buildings, Dublin, as he briefs the media on the latest measures Government Departments have introduced in response to Covid-19.

Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan in Government Buildings, Dublin, as he briefs the media on the latest measures Government Departments have introduced in response to Covid-19.

Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan in Government Buildings, Dublin, as he briefs the media on the latest measures Government Departments have introduced in response to Covid-19.

Turnaround times for testing and tracing coronavirus in Ireland are not set to delay the lockdown exit plan, the chief medical officer has said.

Dr Tony Holohan said, while there was room for improvement in driving down the time taken to complete the process, it was not a significant enough issue to delay the roll out of the plan.

Dr Holohan said a range of factors, including the turnaround time, would be assessed by the National Public Health Emergency Team before it recommended to Government whether the five phase plan could begin, as scheduled, on Monday.

But he told the daily Covid-19 briefing that the timeframe issue would not be the cause of any delay.

The HSE has pledged to reduce the time between someone being referred for a test to the completion of contact tracing in positive cases, from the current median of five days.

It is set to outline further contact and trace measures on Thursday morning.

Dr Holohan said: “We think there’s room for there’s room for further improvement in that. And there are plans that will deliver further improvement on that even in the coming days.

“So I’m not anticipating that we’d be in a situation whereby that performance is going to limit us in terms of ease of restrictions.”

Dr Holohan said when other factors, such as hospital and ICU admission levels and infection rates, were considered he remained “hopeful” that Ireland was on the right “trajectory” to enable NPHET to recommend the easing of restrictions when it briefs cabinet in the coming days.

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The HSE will provide an update on efforts to improve test and trace times on Thursday (Brian Lawless/PA)

The HSE will provide an update on efforts to improve test and trace times on Thursday (Brian Lawless/PA)

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The HSE will provide an update on efforts to improve test and trace times on Thursday (Brian Lawless/PA)

The HSE has said turnaround for tests carried out on patients in hospital settings was around 24 hours but more complex cases, involving people in the community, were taking longer than they should.

IT issues, a lack of automation and incompatible computers systems are among the reasons for delays in the system.

Health officials are hoping to be in a position to carry out 15,000 tests a day and 100,000 each week from mid May.

The HSE ultimately wants to achieve a median turnaround time of three days.

Dr Holohan said turnaround was the “key metric”.

He said: “There has been a lot of emphasis on the total number of tests to be done, the 100,000 figure that we’ve spoken a lot about; the capacity in terms of contact tracing; the numbers of people in contact tracing; the numbers of sampling centres – these are all important metrics, but the key metric is going to be about how quickly we can get a person to a point where there’s a test result in respect to that individual that can be acted upon.”

In regard to efforts to track down people who had been in contact with positive cases, Dr Holohan did not rule out the need for public service announcements to ask people who were at a certain place at a certain time to come forward.

At the daily briefing the CMO was also asked about reports from New York of a number of children dying from suspected Kawasaki disease, an inflammatory syndrome linked to Covid-19.

Dr Holohan said a “small number of cases” had been investigated for suspected Kawasaki disease in Ireland, but none were confirmed as the syndrome.

Dr Siobhan Kennelly, the HSE national clinical adviser and group lead for older persons, also attended the daily briefing.

She expressed hope that a way could be found for visitors to access nursing homes again in a “safe and controlled” way.

“We think it’s really critical that people get to see people again,” she said.

PA