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Covid testing capacity must be ramped up

August 16th, 2020 5:05 PM

By Southern Star Team

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WITH a lockdown of sorts re-imposed in Counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly, due to an upsurge last week in confirmations of new cases of the Covid-19 virus, the speed at which these can escalate so quickly has shown that testing for this deadly coronavirus needs to be ramped up, especially ahead of the winter months when the flu season also hits. Symptoms in both cases can be similar, so it is necessary to deal expeditiously and correctly with confirmed Covid cases in order to head off community transmission.

The call has been made in an interim report released earlier this month by the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19. It is also, quite rightly, concerned about the robustness and efficiency of the existing testing and tracking system when it comes to travel both into and within the State. It wants the HSE’s target turnaround time for ‘end-to-end’ testing to be, at most, one day.

One would have to feel sorry for the people of Kildare, Laois and Offaly – both in the community and business sectors – as they are in the midst of restrictions that were not caused by them. The health authorities must be answerable for this for taking the foot off the pedal as regards testing at meat processing plants, some of which have had previous difficulties achieving adequate social distancing among employees.

This brought Covid-19 into the community and saw clusters develop in direct provision centres and other places migrant workers at these plants lived in. Some of them felt the economic need to keep coming to work even if they exhibited symptoms, while others may have been asymptomatic carriers of the virus – a category that is nigh impossible to deal with.

In some respects, the authorities were between a rock and a hard place, but it was better that they reacted the way they did when they had not been proactive enough about the situation in the Midlands and the coming week will be telling as regards how they manage to suppress the virus from the current R number of 1.8 – the average number of people an infected person passes Covid-19 on to after contracting the disease – back to below 1.0 where we were at going through the early phases on the lifting of restrictions. However, progressively throughout July, while deaths from Covid-19 have been decreasing in number, the amount of confirmed new cases of the virus has been increasing with more than two-thirds of these in the under-45 age bracket and the inability or unwillingness of people to exercise proper social distancing and to take other precautions a further aggravating factor, especially in ill-advised social settings like house parties where they lose inhibitions due to alcohol consumption. To add insult to injury, some selfish people who are contact-traced cannot even be bothered getting tested, when asked, so how are we ever going to be able to keep the virus suppressed when the authorities have to deal with attitudes like that?

And, that is what we will all be up against for the foreseeable future, because Covid-19 is not going away anywhere anytime soon and the best we can hope for is to keep it as suppressed as much as we possibly can. In order to do this – mainly based on the experience of other countries – phase four of the Revised Roadmap for Reopening Ireland has been deferred from August 10th to the 31st, which is especially rough on publicans who do not serve food and have been closed for five months at this stage; they need government support if they are to have any hope of resurrecting their livelihoods when they are allowed re-open.

The end of August also marks the hoped-for reopening of our schools and this will not be without its logistical difficulties. For the educational and emotional wellbeing of children, first and foremost, as well as their parents, the first tentative steps need to be taken, but in a manner that does not jeopardise the health and safety of teachers and other staff.

This will provide the sternest test so far of the lifting of restrictions and is another reason why testing and tracing services need to be operating at optimum capacity before the end of this month in order to deal with inevitable clusters of Covid-19 outbreaks. If these can be dealt with more effectively and efficiently than those which have occurred in recent months in care home settings and in meat factories, we have some hope of keeping the virus suppressed in the wider community.

This is ever before we get to the winter flu season, which will up the ante even further and will determine whether or not we get a second wave of a pandemic that has already made 2020 a year we would rather forget – and, unfortunately, it is far from over yet. Most people are mentally exhausted from hearing about Covid-19, but the fight to keep it suppressed rumbles on.

As individuals, we need to take responsibility to help protect ourselves, our families and the wider community. So, all of us must redouble our collective efforts in this regard in the coming weeks and months or we will suffer further.

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