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HSE testing services are under pressure as health officials admit Covid is targeting our vulnerable elderly

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Covid-19 is hitting the elderly

Covid-19 is hitting the elderly

Covid-19 is hitting the elderly

Rising Covid-19 cases are again striking more older age groups, after it emerged 27 of the people newly diagnosed with the virus yesterday were over 65.

The virus has been slowly encroaching among vulnerable older age groups, and in the last two weeks, 89 of those infected with the virus were over 75 - a doubling of the number infected in the previous fortnight.

The increasing impact on susceptible older people - who have been largely spared of the virus over the summer - comes as 196 new cases of the virus were diagnosed yesterday and HSE Covid-19 testing services came under pressure, forcing it to pause screening of workers in meat plants until next week.

Infections

It had led to the first walk-in testing centre in Limerick city where people can attend for a Covid-19 test without an appointment.

Dublin remained the worst-hit yesterday with 107 new cases, followed by 12 in Waterford, 11 in Limerick, 8 in Wicklow, 7 in Meath, 7 in Kildare, 6 in Laois, 6 in Westmeath, and the remaining 32 new infections located in Cavan, Clare, Donegal, Galway, Kilkenny, Leitrim, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon, Tipperary and Wexford.

Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn expressed concern about the number of infections in older people and also warned 37 of yesterday's new cases were due to community transmission where the source could not be found.

"By limiting our contacts, we limit the opportunity Covid-19 has to spread through the community and ultimately we protect our families, our communities and those who are most vulnerable to the severest impacts of the disease," he said.

Earlier, a row broke out over the HSE's decision to park until next week the surveillance testing of meat plant workers - the scene of major outbreaks in the Midlands - because of a surge in referrals of people referred for Covid-19 checks by GPs.

However, HSE chief Paul Reid said it had to prioritise people with symptoms of Covid-19 and on Monday more than 13,000 were tested - more than double that of on a normal day.

On Tuesday another 8,000 tests were carried out.

They included children - with classes of over 30 in some cases - and people in north Dublin.

Spread

"We have to take the public health approach to prioritising our capacity on a daily basis towards testing symptomatic people," he insisted.

The HSE currently has a capacity to test 100,000 people a week but this may have to be increased if the spread of infection deteriorates.

Around 30 swabbing centres have now been opened across the country. Speaking in the Dáil, Leo Varadkar said that the abrupt halt at meat plants was a temporary measure to address a surge in tests being sought by members of the general population.

He said there were 13,000 test requests from members of the public last Monday, along with 3,000 from hospitals that day, for a total of 16,000.

The national test capacity was 15,000, meaning the meat plant tests could not go ahead, he said. However, testing in meat plants was due to resume next week, he added.

Pearse Doherty, of Sinn Féin, said the cancellations were "reckless, short-sighted and need to be rectified".

Meat plants were hotspots for Covid-19 because of the "poor working conditions" and status of employees, he said, leading to increased transmission in communities.

There were four existing meat and food plant outbreaks in the State, he added. Workers at one plant in Tipperary had received text messages saying testing was ceasing with "immediate effect".

Capacity

Mr Doherty said the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, had not mentioned the move, despite being specifically asked about meat plants in the Dáil on Wednesday.

But Mr Doherty said the highest rate of tests, 70,000 a week, had only been done last week although it was claimed there was a capacity for 100,000.