Some 40,000 patients who were suspected of having the coronavirus by their GP in the past week have been plunged into confusion after learning they will no longer be eligible for a test.
However, they must still behave as if they have the virus and self-isolate at home for 14 days - and other members of their household will have to restrict their movements. GPs were only informed yesterday morning that the health service was abandoning the previous "test, test, test" strategy.
The dramatic tightening of the rules around testing will mean from now, GPs will only refer a patient for a swab test if they have a fever and also a respiratory symptom, such as a cough or shortness of breath. They will also have to fall into specific groups, including those with underlying illnesses and health workers.
The new approach by health bosses, which follows on from WHO advice adapted to the Irish situation, comes as two more people died from the virus yesterday - a man with no known underlying illness, and a woman. Both were from the east of the country.
Another 235 people tested positive yesterday, bringing the number of cases here so far to 1,564.
Some 49pc of cases are thought to be community transmitted.
Around 40,000 were in a backlog to be screened for the infection but it is believed most of these have been dropped from testing centres.
It has emerged that people who were referred by their GP on or before Tuesday to provide a swab test for the coronavirus will not be tested if their appointment falls tomorrow.
Previously they were told to turn up at the testing centre tomorrow although testing criteria has been tightened and only applies to certain priority groups.
They should self isolate for fourteen days and household members restrict their movements.
There are now 39 patients with the virus in intensive care - up from 17 last week.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan yesterday defended the decision to narrow the criteria for testing and focus on priority groups.
He said the system could not cope with the 20,000 people seeking tests daily and just 6pc of them were testing positive with many turning out to have the winter flu instead.
"Our data showed yesterday that only 6pc of our tests so far returned positive; so for every 100 people we test we are only finding six people with Covid-19. In light of this, our case definition changed.
"Changing case definition is a standard practice in managing pandemics.
"Ultimately, we want our 6pc detected rate to increase, we want to find as many people as possible with Covid-19, isolate them and contain the spread."
Dublin GP Dr Maitiu O Tuathail said family doctors are telling patients they referred for a test who had not received an appointment to provide a swab that they will not now be tested.
"They need to self-isolate at home away from other family members for 14 days," he said.
Household contacts of those with symptoms must now also follow restricted movements for 14 days.
Patients who have received an appointment for a swab test can proceed and they will receive a test.
He said it is a stark turnaround from the previous appeal to people who had potential symptoms of the virus to contact their GP.
He welcomed that priority groups will be tested and will receive a test result earlier. However he said it will mean that there is less of a picture of the extent of the infection in the community.
Resolute: Dr Tony Holohan defended the decision over testing. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Patients who have not received an appointment, but may qualify for a test under the new criteria, must contact their GP again to be assessed and if they are eligible they will be sent forward.
The HSE has set up over 40 testing centres across the country but patients have endured delays of 10 days as stocks of some kits ran low.
Dr Holohan said he still hoped it will be possible to carry out 15,000 tests a day by the end of next month.
The Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) said yesterday that all patients referred for testing prior to and including last Tuesday who have not been tested or do not have an appointment will not now receive one.
"Patients who have been given an appointment for testing should attend for same. If you have been tested and had a swab taken you will receive the result either by text or phone call from a public health doctor," said a spokeswoman.
"If you have not received an appointment for testing and you feel you meet the new criteria you need to ring your GP to discuss if you need a new referral for testing. GPs acknowledge the new arrangements may cause some confusion with the public and would ask for their patience."
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the forecast he made that there would be 15,000 cases of the coronavirus here at the end of the month will not materialise. However, he said there are cases of the virus in the community which have not been detected.
St James's Hospital in Dublin had to make an appeal for protective clothing and equipment for staff yesterday and emergency supplies had to be transferred from another hospital.
Health Minister Simon Harris said: "Almost 13 years' worth of personal protective equipment will arrive in Ireland by the end of the week."
The delivery is expected from China on Sunday.
"Usually we spend €15m a year on personal protective equipment - we will spend €225 this year," he told Virgin Media News.