QUEUES formed within minutes of a drive-through Covid-19 test centre commencing operations in Cork.
The centre - at the St Mary's health campus in Knocknaheeny - offers special testing for referred patients who can have swabs taken while they sit in their vehicles.
It is now expected to act as the model for a network of such special testing centres nationwide - with the first centres located in regions which have experienced a growing number of Covid-19 detections.
Staff manning the special test centre wear full protective clothing - including plastic gloves, face masks, goggles and plastic surgical
All patients are dealt with through their opened car door windows - and do not have to exit their vehicles.
It is understood the swabs are then set for analysis to a new virus testing laboratory in Cork.
The Cork centre represents the second such special testing centre set up outside Dublin with a temporary 'pop-up' centre operating in Clare last week as part of efforts to deal with a cluster of Covid-19 cases in the western region.
Other tests have been conducted in patient homes by specially trained paramedics.
The southern region - and Cork in particular - has witnessed a major surge in Covid-19 detections over the past week.
Last week, Cork recorded the first case of community transmission of the virus with a Cork University Hospital (CUH) patient.
The South South West Hospital Group (SSWHG) moved to ally any public fears over such testing centres.
"The health service is involved in a significant range of preparations for the rapidly evolving situation related to COVID-19," a
"Central to these preparations is the provision of COVID-19 testing facilities that respond to the needs of our patients and staff. Each
testing facility and mode of testing has been carefully considered and risk assessed with appropriate adjustments as deemed necessary.
"There is a very understandable level of concern however, we would like to reassure the public that all National Guidance and Standard Precautions for Infection Prevention and Control in relation to COVID- 19 are being stringently adhered to.
"In addition, there is no increased level of risk of exposure to the community that are in the vicinity of any such testing facility."
Cork Kerry Community Healthcare (CKCH) have declined to comment on the latest developments at the St Mary's site.
The old Cork orthopaedic hospital had been subject to a re-organisation 10 years ago as part of a review of acute hospital
resources in the region.
It has been operated over recent years as an urgent community care centre by the Mercy University Hospital (MUH).
However, construction workers began round-the-clock operations last week at the two storey Grove House complex on the site.
Grove House will now be used as a special Covid-19 testing and, if necessary, isolation centre for less seriously ill patients.
The building had been idle and unused for a number of years.
It was previously used for the healthcare needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities.
The refurbishment has seen new doors and windows, enhanced insulation and interior decorations installed.
CKCH previously said it was unable to comment in specifics about the building and the work underway.
"All parts of the health service are involved in a significant range of preparations for this rapidly evolving situation," a spokesperson
The statement added that a range of plans were in place and various measures were under consideration to prepare for a range of different scenarios.
It is understood the new St Mary's drive-through testing centre is for referral patients only - and aims to operate as part of the intensive contact-tracing process underway by Health Service Executive (HSE) public health officials.
People tested at the centre are referred either by their GPs or by an acute hospital.
Meanwhile, the NHS in the UK is set to "ramp up" facilities nationwide so 10,000 tests can be carried out each day.
Health officials have said sending people to such sites rather than hospitals or doctors reduces the risk to the wider public and protects patients at acute hospitals.
Those referred to the drive through hubs in the UK for swabbing will arrive in their own car, and will not enter the building. They will be swabbed outside by specially trained nurses, under a purpose built awning. Similar systems will be in place in Ireland.
Person who receive the test should remain self-isolated until they receive their results.
Such special test centres are considered better than the special 'hubs' set up in the car parks of acute hospitals across the UK.