I spent the morning chatting with the HSE on-line support and as I suspected Ireland doesn’t really have a plan to deal with an outbreak of the coronavirus. Basically, if you have any of the symptoms stay at home. And most definitely do not rock up to a hospital or GP Surgery. There could be people infected in Ireland at the moment and we wouldn’t know. Nobody is being tested in a meaningful way.
The HSE website has two or three pages of generic information that is informative but not at all practical, especially if there is an outbreak similiar to the ones in Italy, South Korea or Iran. The HSE have not updated their protocols for any of the three above countries over the weekend. All HSE protocols are still for people that have visited mainland China or been in contact with people that have been in mainland China. This, despite the fact that there is clear evidence since Friday Feb 21st of major virus outbreaks in other parts of the world. Also, it is not clear to me why Hong Kong is being treated differently to mainland China as there are clear problems there too.
It is clearly a policy to only contact a medical professional if you have been to China AND have symptoms. As we know this virus can take up to 10 days to reveal symptoms.
Here is a transcript of my conversation with the HSE online support.
Hello, we’re HSE Live. How can I help you today?
If someone wants to get tested for coronavirus what do they do and where do they go to?
Good morning Gerry,
I am looking into this for you, this may take a few moments. I appreciate your patience
Gerry – 08:47
HSE – 08:47
Testing – when you may need to be tested for coronavirus. You will only need to be tested for coronavirus if you have symptoms and have in the last 14 days been: in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus to mainland China – this does not include Hong Kong or Macau in a healthcare centre or hospital where patients with coronavirus were being treated.
If your doctor thinks that you need a test for coronavirus, they will tell you where the test will be done. They will also tell you when to expect your results. Read advice on what you need to do if you have been to mainland China in the last 14 days.
Link to HSE Info
How would I know if I was in close contact with a person with coronavirus….I regularly use airports…Are Irish medical center’s testing for the virus. I have read these reports already and I don’t find them very useful
As far as I am aware testing is only carried out if a GP or public health doctor decides this is necessary because the person is symptomatic and has been in an affected area or in touch with an affected person.
Will they come to my house in that scenario ? – There surely must be a list of secure test centers – I mean what about Italy – I have been to Italy in the last 14 days?
The person would self isolate if they had symptoms the public health office would contact the person by phone and monitor their symptoms over a certain period.
The HPSC website is updated daily and I am awaiting an update from Public Health in relation to Italy.
If you have had close contact with a person who has coronavirus, you will be monitored for 14 days. A doctor will phone you daily to make sure you remain well. You will be asked to stay separate from other people as much as you can for 14 days. This includes not going to work.
So basically no Test.
Test – when you may need to be tested for coronavirus You will only need to be tested for coronavirus if you have symptoms and have in the last 14 days been: in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus in a healthcare centre or hospital where patients with coronavirus were being treated If your doctor thinks that you need a test for coronavirus, they will tell you where the test will be done. They will also tell you when to expect your results.
End of Transcript
For some reason it seems to be a secret as to WHERE people will go to be tested. I asked this question a few different times trying to get a definitive answer. None was forthcoming. I would imagine that tests would need to be carried out in secure locations away from regular hospital emergency departments and/or medical centers.
Is the Department of Health prepared for a situation where large numbers of people need to be tested?
Based on the info from the HSE website and my interaction with them it would seem the answer is no.
Shouldn’t we begin to set up Test Centers and advertise where they will be and start a program of testing for the virus in preparation for an outbreak?
It would seem to me that following current HSE guidelines, testing in Ireland will not commence in a meaningful way until someone is close to death. This then will trigger a focus on testing a huge number of tests in the vicinity of that patient zero. Too little too late surely?