Gardai are stepping up their campaign to be treated as emergency cases for Covid-19 virus testing.
Their initial claim for priority testing was rejected after NPHET, the National Public Health Emergency Team, advised there was no longer any need for specific groups to be singled out as test results could now be provided in three days.
However, gardai argue that their risk of being infected as clearly a lot higher than others because of assaults, involving spitting and coughing, during close interactions with members of the public claiming to have the virus.
Latest official figures, released by Commissioner Drew Harris, show there were 70 incidents of spitting and/or coughing against members of his force between April 8 and May 16 and officers had to deploy anti-spit guards 57 times.
Mr Harris said: “These reprehensible spitting and coughing attacks on our personnel continue and are a significant health and safety risk to our members in the current environment. We must protect them from such attacks”.
The Garda Representative Association (GRA) is now calling on the force’s occupational health department to engage immediately with the HSE to develop a protocol and a service level agreement for the emergency testing of its rank and file members.
Association president Jim Mulligan said yesterday this agreement should provide for the taking of a sample at the earliest opportunity with immediate testing to follow, coupled with appropriate contact tracing as soon as possible if the test returns positive.
“Gardai are wondering why they were never given priority testing, considering so many other frontline workers are getting it”, Mr Mulligan added.
“When you have been spat at by someone claiming to have the virus, the risk of infection is clearly a lot higher.
“Yet, under the current arrangements, gardai must join the queue. Turnaround times for the general population are not reliable and, therefore, totally inappropriate.
“Currently, gardai and their families face an anxious wait, and inconvenience, to find out if they have been infected with a deadly disease, which they could spread to family members and colleagues. This shows a shocking disregard for our members and their families”, he said.
Mr Mulligan said he welcomed clarification that gardai on outdoor duties would be equipped with facemasks they could use if social distancing could not be maintained, including on foot patrol and at checkpoints.
He said his association had been arguing for many weeks for greater use of facemasks by gardai and had suggested being equipped with them on outdoor duties.
Garda management had now adopted this position, easing their concerns at the absence of facemasks at checkpoints. The new protocol stated that if a garda could not stay two metres away from a vehicle, for instance on a narrow road, he or she should put on a facemask.