- 28 Jul 22
Testing will be ramped up if a new variant of concern arises and there is a need to reintroduce mass testing at community level.
Covid-19 testing for the general public is set to be stood down in the autumn, after the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly accepted advice from Interim Chief Medical Officer, Professor Breda Smyth.
The Department of Health has explained the reasoning behind the proposed change to end Covid testing for the general population, saying that Covid-19 will be managed primarily through GP care.
The virus will be dealt with in a similar manner to other infectious diseases, with a clinical decision at GP care level, and underpinned by a surveillance system.
It is not clear if this includes the antigen tests that are sent out by the HSE or will be exclusive to PCR testing.
The Department said that continuation of the testing programme at the scale seen to date has limited public health rationale in the current times. Unless there is an emergence of a variant of concern that has major public health implications, it seems the HSE's centres will be stood down later this year.
Despite the change in testing policy, the HSE are now set to develop emergency response plans for both testing and tracing due to uncertainty about the future spread of Covid-19.
The change in testing policy comes just after the Minister for Health announced changes to Ireland’s Covid-19 vaccination programme, following new advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC).
With the recommendations will come changes in how booster vaccines are administered, including second and third boosters for those with underlying conditions and immunocompromised people.
NIAC also recommended that Covid-19 vaccines could be administered at the same time as seasonal flu vaccines.
New data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) has also shown that almost 9 percent of people have already received their second booster dose.
The local electoral areas with the lowest booster vaccine take-up are all Dublin locations: Blanchardstown, Mulhuddart, Tallaght South and Ongar.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly warned of the potential perfect storm, where a severe flu season and a Covid surge this winter arrive simultaneously.
The last changes to public health advice in relation to testing for Covid-19 came into effect on 28 February 2022. Since then, the HSE has been developing proposals to transition the testing programme towards a longer-term, sustainable model. This would allow Covid-19 to be managed for public health and clinical purposes, rather than the mass testing and tracing programme which has been in effect since early 2020.
The proposal to close centres in the autumn follows a recommendation from interim Chief Medical Officer Breda Smyth.
The recommendation was brought to Cabinet today (July 28) by Minister Donnelly and accepted, according to the Press Association.