Covid-19: Surge in demand for testing among children in past week, HSE says

1,292 new cases reported in the State with 331 patients in hospital

There has been a “surge in demand” for Covid-19 testing for children in the past week but the rate of children testing positive for the virus has fallen, according to the HSE.

Niamh O’Beirne, HSE national lead for testing and tracing, said that walk-in and self-referrals for tests for children continued to grow.

Some 32,000 children were tested over the past seven days but the percentage testing positive continued to fall and the rate now stood at 6 per cent, down from 13 per cent last week, she told a briefing.

Children make up the highest proportion of tests among the 145,000 carried out over the past week. The volume of children being tested is almost three times the next largest group, 15-24-year-olds.


Overall, testing has increased by 35 per cent on average this week.

Monday was the busiest day with 21,000 appointments, followed by 19,000 on Tuesday, 18,500 on Wednesday and more than 17,000 booked by lunchtime on Thursday.

The HSE has had to deal with Covid-19 cases in 1,011 primary schools and childcare facilities and 632 secondary schools since the start of the academic year.

The number of children isolating at home as close contacts of cases runs to about 10,000 as there are now, on average, 10 close contacts for every case, down from an average of about 15.

The HSE has assigned more staff to a Covid-19 phone helpline for school principals managing cases following reports of delays in responses from public health teams.

Ms O’Beirne said the HSE “definitely have had some issues” on the administrative side when gathering a “quite intense” volume of contact information on cases and their close contacts.

“The school principals do have a job to do here and it is challenging for them. They have to gather quite a bit of data, which is very important for the testing system,” she said.

Dr Abigail Collins, HSE Public Health Schools Response Lead, moved to reassure school principals encountering delays getting public health advice because the helpline closed at 4.30pm.

She said that the incubation period of the virus was four to seven days so that allows time for risk assessment to be carried out in a “slightly calmer and more orderly way.”

Seeking to reassure the public that schools remain safe, she noted that there were more cases of the virus in schools last year and during the summer before schools reopened.

“We saw the largest number of children get Covid in January, and in July and August, when children haven’t been in school,” she said.


Elsewhere there were 1,292 new cases of Covid-19 reported by the Department of Health on Thursday. It said there were 331 patients with Covid-19 in hospital, down four since Wednesday, of whom 54 were in ICU.

Earlier HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry has said that the challenge for the HSE now will be putting the National Immunisation Advisory Committee’s (Niac) advice on booster vaccines into action.

The “waning” immunity of the first round of vaccines for vulnerable groups such as the elderly and immunocompromised will require booster jabs, DR Henry told Newstalk Breakfast.

Niac has recommended a booster dose of an mRNA vaccine for residents aged 65 years and older living in long term residential care facilities and for those aged 80 years and older living in the community.

The booster dose can be given after a minimal interval of six months following completion of the primary vaccination schedule.

The booster vaccines will be MrNA brands such as Pfizer and Moderna, even if the original doses were AstraZeneca, he explained. Research had indicated that the mixing of vaccines was effective and would have a good response, said Dr Henry. Among the first groups will be over-80s in the community and over-65s in residential settings.

The booster campaign will have to be safe and effective, the purpose of it will be to build on the gains achieved from the vaccine programme, he added.

There was a lot to be optimistic about now, said Dr Henry. Daily numbers appeared to be stabilising and there were good signs about the rates of hospitalisation, those requiring ICU treatment and the mortality rate.

“The vaccination programme has protected us from the worst of the virus. We’re playing a rule set that has protected us.”

Dr Henry said that the policy on children having to stay away from school when they were identified as close contacts, would be reviewed by Nphet in the coming weeks, but would remain in place in the meantime.

When asked about plans in the UK for mandatory vaccination for frontline workers, Dr Henry said that the approach of the HSE continued to be “persuasive” which had been more effective to date. However, any frontline staff who had not been vaccinated, would continue to be redeployed.

Dr Henry also said that the two members of Sláintecare who had resigned on Wednesday would be missed.