Demand for community Covid-19 swab tests has soared by 210% in the last few weeks, it has emerged.
HSE boss Paul Reid said a “complex set of demands” have emerged for workplace settings, close contacts and people whose first language is not English.
He told the HSE briefing that demand for testing doubled in one week.
“That is putting a different challenge on us in terms of the increased volume but also increased complexity,” Mr Reid added.
He said an increase in testing had led to a longer turnaround time and that the number of close contacts is “very significantly up”.
However, Mr Reid denied claims from a University College Dublin academic that the system was “falling apart”.
He said such “alarmist comments” may get attention but are not borne out by the facts.
“In my view they’re actually hugely unhelpful. We want people to come forward for testing and demonstrate that the testing system is meeting demand,” he added.
A total of 21,000 community tests, more than 16,000 hospitals tests and 17,000 serial tests have been carried out in the past week.
The HSE completed its highest number of swab tests in one day, with more than 11,000 in 24 hours.
Over the last three days, the median turnaround time for a test is 2.3 days, an improvement on 2.8 last week.
Mr Reid said there has been a 10-fold increase in the numbers of people deployed to carry out contact tracing.
Our contact tracing teams have gone from very small numbers per week to now 4,000 calls completed last week and close contacts are certainly now upPaul Reid
“We now have five contact tracing centres being mobilised all across the country,” he added.
“Our contact tracing teams have gone from very small numbers per week to now 4,000 calls completed last week and close contacts are certainly now up.”
Mr Reid said common themes were emerging from the outbreaks, including issues around language barriers in meat plants.
“Close working conditions have been a common consistent factor in terms of some outbreaks, including shared recreational facilities between canteens and toilets and shared accommodation,” he added.
“There is also the need for occupational health supports and a real need – particularly in larger organisations, whether it’s a GP on site or an available GP – to give guidance to organisations about appropriate actions to take at appropriate times.”
A total of 1.7 million people have downloaded the Covid-19 tracker app.
More than 200 people diagnosed with Covid-19 have uploaded their positive results to the app, which has led to 487 people being made aware they are a close contact.
HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor said the Citywest Hotel continues to receive referrals to use the self-isolation facilities for healthcare workers and those who cannot isolate at home.
“In total we have 107 under the general self-isolation and 67 healthcare workers in self-isolation,” Ms O’Connor added.
“We have seen a definite increase in the numbers, this number has changed hugely over the period of Covid, down to very low numbers at one point but today we have 174 people in Citywest for isolation.
“We are continuing that and we are reviewing that in the context of Direct Provision and meat plants and the need for isolation.”
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is meeting on Thursday to discuss restrictions in Kildare, Laois and Offaly.
The restrictions are due to be lifted on Sunday after they were imposed on August 7 following an outbreak in the three counties.
Meanwhile, the Government was forced to clarify the number of people allowed to attend cultural venues following conflicting statements and widespread confusion.
There have been calls for clarity about Tuesday’s announcement following confusion over the permitted number of people allowed to attend indoor and outdoor events.
The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said on Wednesday that events in venues like cinemas, galleries and theatres where there is physical distancing and controlled measures can continue under current guidelines.
The current limit is 50 for indoor events and 200 for outdoors.
However, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly later said indoor concerts could not exceed six people from three different households.
This led to confusion, with the National Campaign for the Arts calling for the department and the Government to provide clarity about cultural events.
In a statement from the Taoiseach’s department on Thursday, a spokeswoman said: “Following consultation with the ministers of Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht and the Minister for Health, the following clarification applies to measures introduced with respect to the cultural sector.
“Businesses/services such as museums, cinemas, theatres and art galleries are deemed to be controlled environments, with appropriate protective measures in place such as physical distancing between people.
“These venues can continue to operate where appropriate physical distancing and all other protective measures can continue to be maintained. Individual groupings attending these venues must be limited to six people from no more than three households.
“Overall attendance must adhere to an overall limit of 50 people.”