The chair of the Covid-19 expert advisory group has said that Ireland will increase its coronavirus testing to 15,000 a day “probably” by the end of next week.
Dr Cillian De Gascun, a consultant virologist and director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL), said it is expected between 5,000 to 7,000 people a day will be tested this week.
The Government’s goal is to dramatically increase its testing over the coming weeks and to turn around a test within 48 hours.
Ireland has been facing several challenges as it tries to increase capacity and clear its backlog of tests.
On Saturday, Minister for Health Simon Harris said he hoped the backlog in testing would be cleared by the end of next week.
He said between 25,000 and 30,000 tests had been sent to Germany, with more than half of the tests returned and the remainder due back over the coming days.
In an interview with Newstalk, Dr De Gascun said the goal of reaching 15,000 tests a day will not be reached over the next two days.
“This week we’re expecting to (carry out) between 5,000 to 7,000 a day and then the 15,000 will probably be the second half of next week at best, assuming everything goes according to plan.
“We are still expecting new equipment to come on stream and that hasn’t arrived yet so there’s still a number of steps that we’re expecting but certainly our capacity has increased dramatically.”
Dr De Gascun said that when Ireland is able to carry out 15,000 tests a day, it “will aspire” to have tests results back within 24 or 36 hours.
He added: “That will happen because the structure is now in place to allow that to happen.
“People will think that this is sort of me making excuses, I’m trying to just explain what happened, we have had to set up a brand new pathway for this testing process because typically patients will be tested either in hospital or they’ll be tested through GPs.
“GPs weren’t an option from the early stages of this because we were trying to keep people away from surgeries from an infection control perspective.
“There’s been a new structure put in place by the National Ambulance Service which has been phenomenal, there’s now a new GP referral system.
“We would envisage people calling their GPs, say for example on a Monday, they get an electronic referral, they will need to be sampled at one of the community hubs on Tuesday, that sample will come to the lab, and the results will be available on the Wednesday or the Thursday.”
Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland