Health chiefs in Northern Ireland defend coronavirus testing regime

Health chiefs in Northern Ireland have defended the number of coronavirus tests being carried out in the region.

There are currently around 200 tests being conducted each day. Only people being admitted to hospital and those in care settings are being routinely tested.

Plans were announced on Thursday to increase that number to 800 within the next 10 days and also to widen the scope of the testing to cover certain groups of healthcare workers.

In the Irish Republic, 15,000 tests are now being carried out across the community every day.

During a Public Health Agency (PHA) briefing on the Covid-19 situation, Dr Lourda Geoghegan from the Department of Health was asked whether Northern Ireland was failing to follow the “test, test, test” mantra of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

She insisted testing was being “very rapidly scaled up”.

Dr Geoghegan said an expert advisory group established to increase the testing would ensure a further scale-up of numbers in the weeks ahead.

She was asked whether the department would seek to secure testing kits from Northern Ireland-based companies, which are currently exporting their products to other countries.

The senior medic said the advisory group would be examining “all options”.

“I expect further significant work in this area in the coming days and weeks,” she said.

Dr Geoghegan said 80% of the population could be infected with the virus and, of those numbers, half could contract Covid-19 during a three-to-five-week peak.

“That would be hugely challenging for our health care system,” she said.

“We want to pull the peak down and push the peak outwards over the coming weeks.”

She said public adherence to social distancing measures would be “essential” in the battle to limit the death toll.

“The actions we take today will save lives in the next two to three weeks,” she said.

It was revealed that the PHA plans to provide further details about diagnosed cases, such as the age and location, in the coming days, and that health chiefs are working to increase the number of ventilators it has available to cope during the anticipated peak of cases.