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Health chiefs race to get 'spillover' testing and isolation units ready

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(Stock photo)

(Stock photo)

(Stock photo)

Health chiefs are racing against the clock to have a network of special 'spillover' coronavirus testing and isolation centres ready across Ireland within days.

The centres aim to cope with any surge in Covid-19 detections and, more importantly, to help shield already-stretched Irish acute hospitals and intensive care units.

HSE officials are now examining properties in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway for use as dedicated virus testing centres and, if necessary, as special isolation centres for non-critical Covid-19 patients.

The properties under consideration include unused hospital buildings, non-commissioned primary care facilities, administration blocks, nursing homes and even Defence Forces medical facilities.

In Cork, an unused building on the St Mary's Hospital campus is being prepared for use as a dedicated virus testing centre.

The building, Grove House, has been idle for some time but builders worked throughout last weekend on urgent renovations for the property.

It is expected to be ready for use as such a 'spillover' centre within days.

Similar buildings in Dublin are being examined as the HSE acts to prepare for a likely surge in Covid-19 cases.

Italy, which boasts one of Europe's finest healthcare systems, is now having to use hospital corridors as intensive care and isolation units as medical facilities across Lombardy are swamped by the sheer number of virus patients.

Health chiefs are examining properties in Galway, Limerick, Waterford, Kilkenny and Portlaoise in a bid to support the hospital network.

Central to the HSE move is the protection of Ireland's acute hospitals and their intensive care units.

For most people, a Covid-19 infection will resemble a mild-to-severe flu.

However, the virus poses a significant threat to the elderly, to those with serious underlying medical conditions, to smokers, those with heart conditions and those with suppressed immune systems.

The HSE and Department of Health are desperate to protect already overcrowded acute hospitals from non-emergency Covid-19 cases and to enhance Ireland's intensive care unit bed capacity.

Ireland is keen to avoid the UK situation where hospitals desperate to segregate Covid-19 testing from already ill patients have set up special testing 'pods' in the car parks of major hospitals.

Health officials have already used special 'pop-up' testing centres in areas of Ireland where Covid-19 detections have occurred.

In Cork, 60 staff at Cork University Hospital (CUH) were told to place themselves in self-isolation for 14 days after a patient who had been on a crowded ward for more than 24 hours tested positive for the virus last Thursday.

Public health officials are now desperately trying to trace the 150-plus people - including other CUH patients - who may have had contact with the middle-aged man who is seriously ill from an underlying medical condition.

The man presented Ireland's first case of community spread of the virus, as he had not travelled abroad and he had not been in contact with any of the confirmed six cases at that point.

Ireland has since recorded two more cases of community transmission of the virus.

Medical personnel have now expressed concern that any massive surge in Covid-19 detections will swamp Ireland's isolation bed capacity within acute hospitals.

Irish Independent