Huge demand for Covid-19 testing has led to long wait times, the Acting Director of Public Health has said.
Dr Anne Sheahan said that those seeking a Covid-19 PCR test may experience longer wait times for appointments as there is currently “huge demand” on the service.
She said, however, that those who develop symptoms of Covid-19 need to act as if they are confirmed positive and isolate while they await a test regardless.
“The public health advice has not changed and we need to recognise that the Omicron variant is much more transmissible than previous variants. However, it appears to cause less severe illness but we are monitoring the data which will advise us,” she said.
A spokesperson for Cork Kerry Community Healthcare (CKCH) said that due to the rise in positive rates of Covid-19, community testing centres are “functioning at full capacity”.
“We would ask people seeking to book a test to check back online later as a slot may have become available.
"We monitor testing on a continuous basis and retain slots for GP referral or close contacts, which may become available for the public to book later in the day or up to the end of the next day.
If a person is symptomatic or if someone cannot access an appointment on our self-referral portal we would ask them to first and foremost contact their GP.
"Tests are scheduled in the shortest possible time frame usually within 24/48 hours. Currently, results are issued within 48 hours. We cannot provide testing to people without an appointment.”
The HSE said it is sending antigen testing kits to people named as close contacts - those who are a close contact of a person that tested positive for Covid-19 - which can be used to test at home if they are fully vaccinated against Covid19 and do not have symptoms of Covid-19.
If you test positive for COVID-19 you will get a text message. This will include a link to a website where you can upload contact details for your close contacts. If you do not use the website, a contact tracer will phone you to collect the details. pic.twitter.com/ah0WQsPc5t— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) December 31, 2021
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Health David Cullinane called on Government to make antigen testing widely and freely available to ease the pressure on the PCR testing system.
The Omicron variant is now rampant in communities right across the State. The surge in case numbers is placing unprecedented pressure on the PCR testing system.
“Current HSE capacity is 300,000 tests a week. That is 6% of the population being tested every week.
“But we are approaching, or are at, full capacity, and the system is struggling to cope with the unprecedented demands being placed upon it.
“It is therefore clear that we must now place a far greater emphasis on antigen testing.
“One-third of positive cases through a PCR followed a positive antigen test. That is all the more reason to see greater use of antigen testing, and for it to be made freely available,” he said.