THERE has been a sharp rise in the demand for PCR testing in West Cork due to the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant.
With one in two people receiving a positive result for Covid, a HSE spokesperson confirmed that local testing centres are functioning ‘at full capacity’ with Tuesday seeing ‘record numbers tested.’
The West Cork test centre at Ballinacarriga near Dunmanway, was busy over the holiday period with a steady stream of cars lining up for testing from early on Christmas Day and Stephen’s Day.
Dr Paul O’Sullivan of the Marino Medical Centre in Bantry confirmed that the majority of out-of-hours calls over the holiday period were people requesting Covid tests.
When the medical centre reopened on Wednesday, he said they were correct in anticipating that it would be very busy. ‘It’s now pretty much a case of all hands on deck,’ he said. Dr O’Sullivan confirmed that GP referral requests for PCR tests are still being accepted. But he said it is likely there will be an even greater demand in the weeks to come, which may lead to delays.
He also pointed out that some GP clinics are experiencing staff shortages – due to Covid infection and close contacts – which is causing delays at some medical centres. He appealed to people to ‘be patient.’
On Wednesday afternoon of this week there were no free PCR appointments available anywhere in Cork, via the self-referral site at hse.ie, though new appointments often open up at midnight for the following day.
If a person is symptomatic, or if someone cannot access an appointment for a PCR via the HSE site, the HSE has asked them to ‘contact their GP and follow the public health advice with regards to self-isolating.’
The spokesperson said tests are scheduled ‘in the shortest possible time frame’ – usually within 24/48 hours – and the results are issued within 48 hours.
The HSE said it cannot provide testing to people without an appointment, but it would continue to send antigen testing kits to people named as close contacts.
The Omicron spike has resulted in some businesses announcing their temporary closure because of the need to self-isolate.
Joe O’Leary and Caroline O’Donnell, owners of Levis’ Corner House in Ballydehob, were forced to close their pub and music venue for a week.
On St Stephen’s Day, they confirmed that one member of staff tested positive using an antigen test and was awaiting a PCR test to become available. ‘Unfortunately,’ they posted online, ‘there’s a big backlog in even getting a PCR test.’
The decision to close for the week means the cancellation of all of the Levis Corner House outdoor gigs for the week. And in Clonakilty, Shanley’s bar announced on Stephen’s Day that ‘due to staff shortages as a result of restricting their movements’ they would be closing ‘for the next few days’. Private testing firms in Cork city and Bandon also reported being very busy over the Christmas period.