GPs who are expecting an "avalanche" of patients seeking a test for the coronavirus from today have warned that people who are simply seeking "reassurance" will not automatically get one.
For the first time since the Covid-19 outbreak, GPs are now to take over the role of directly ordering tests, a role previously held by HSE public health doctors.
Up to now a patient who had potential symptoms of the virus, such as sudden cough or high fever, phoned their GP who risk-assessed them but it was then passed on to the HSE public health service which ultimately decided if the test should go ahead.
North Dublin GP Dr Mel Bates said from today the GP who assessed the patient could order the test electronically, but not every patient who asked for one would be tested.
He said those simply looking for reassurance they do not have the virus, and do not have symptoms to warrant one after assessment by a GP, would not be referred for a test.
"People look for reassurance from a test that tells them its negative but that's only a moment in time. There is no predictive value to the test. It only says you are positive or negative in that point in time.
"People are looking for certainty in a complete time of uncertainty," the GP said.
According to the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), the tests will only be ordered as clinically indicated, after assessment by a GP.
GPs will not themselves carry out the tests in the surgery but will refer the patients to one of the new expanded HSE testing centres around the country where they will give a swab.
This will be sent to a laboratory and the result could take a number of days. In the meantime, the patient needs to self-isolate.
Dr Bates said on Saturday the out-of-hours GP services were inundated with requests for tests. Out-of-hours services are for emergencies and cannot order the tests.
People who are considered for testing will be patients with symptoms who have been abroad recently, those who were in contact with somebody positive for the virus and patients who have developed a sudden new fever of 38C or more, or chills or respiratory tract infections, including a cough.
Some patients with symptoms they might normally regard as a winter cold are expected to be advised to self-isolate for 14 days as a precaution.
Dr Mary Favier, president of ICGP, said: "We are asking patients that if you are physically unwell, and your symptoms are worsening, especially shortness of breath or fever, please contact your GP for advice during office hours, or your local out-of-hours service at evenings and weekends by telephone.
"You will be given advice over the phone."
If the symptoms worsen, people are asked to contact their doctor or the emergency services.
People who have these symptoms should not be in contact with older relatives or neighbours or those whose immune system is weakened.
"The key to stopping the spread of the virus continues to be regular hand washing and covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or the bend of your elbow when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of infection and don't touch the face," she said.
Illness due to Covid-19 infection is generally mild, especially for children and young adults.
One in five people who catch it may need supportive care.
Immunology experts have criticised the British government's strategy of allowing large numbers of people to become infected with coronavirus to develop "herd immunity" so that the more vulnerable do not contract the disease.