Post-Christmas demand for Covid-19 PCR tests has been described as “extremely high” with limited availability for appointments through the HSE’s booking portal on St Stephen’s Day.
As reported in The Irish Times, the Department of Health urged people who have symptoms to self-isolate and book a PCR test when they become available.
The department also reminded people of the importance of cancelling PCR test appointments in advance if needed, so the slot can be made available for others.
“We continually monitor the availability of testing appointments across each of our centres and appointments often do become available later in the day,” said the Department of Health in a statement.
This comes as a further 10,404 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed on St Stephen’s Day, after new infections on Christmas Day and Eve broke previous records.
On Christmas Day, 13,765 cases were recorded, which is the highest single-day figure for infections since the pandemic began.
The increase in case numbers over Christmas and St Stephens Day was reported amid reduced testing capacity. However, all 41 HSE test centres will be open on Monday, which is up 36 from Sunday.
Throughout Sunday afternoon, there were no appointments available at any Covid-19 testing centres at various times.
Previously, community testing was originally established at 15,000 tests a day, but this has been increased to 35,000 a day due to the fast spreading nature of the Omicron variant. It is understood that there are plans to increase testing capacity even further.
According to the Department of Health, antigen tests will continue to be made available to people who are identified as close contacts.
Dr Catherine Motherway, head of University Hospital Limerick’s intensive-care unit, has expressed concern over the potential impact on the health service from increasing numbers of staff being forced out on sick leave.
“We don’t yet know whether we can continue to provide elective scheduled services,” she said.
Dr Motherway also commented that it was unknown what effect the Omicron variant would have on vulnerable people and those who are unvaccinated.
Amid the increasing number of Covid-19 cases, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan called on anyone with symptoms to self-isolate and book a PCR test.
Dr Holohan also appealed to people to reduce contacts and avoid crowded places, including retailers, and to leave any shop that did not feel safe and where public health advice was not being followed.
Exemptions for key workers
Dr Holohan issued his appeal as civil servants are to decide if key workers who are symptom-free close contacts should be exempt from Covid-19 isolation requirements.
This is being considered as part of contingency plans to ensure public services remain in operation amid high levels of infection.
There are already some exemptions in place within the health service for key-staff who are Covid-19 close contacts.
Exemptions being extended to other workers such as gardaí, fire crews, prison officers and those involved in infrastructure and public utilities, such as water services and power supply, is now also being considered.
A Government statement said departments are “working to ensure the full implementation of existing sectoral guidance, as well as putting in place contingency plans to ensure the continued operation of critical infrastructure and essential services”.