Testing for Covid-19 would be radically scaled back under plans being considered by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), as harm associated with the virus is reduced.
A paper on transitioning away from the “unprecedented” mass testing regime that has been put in place details a “stepwise” approach away from the current system.
Among the first steps would be advising against testing vaccinated people with mild respiratory symptoms, and testing of children under 13 with mild symptoms to be discouraged if they do not deteriorate over 48 hours.
“The success of the vaccination programme requires a fundamental revaluation of the approach to testing for Sars-CoV-2 and how it links to the evolving public health response,” according the discussion paper, which was submitted to Nphet in late July and released under the Freedom of Information Act.
With Covid likely to become endemic in the global population, alongside reduced harm due to vaccines, “we need to begin to consider how we plan to transition towards placing testing … back in the framework within which we test for other infections,” the paper’s author, Prof Martin Cormican, argues.
Prof Cormican, who is the HSE’s leading expert on infection control, says this will mean testing for coronavirus “much more selectively”. This would mean usually testing only when requested by a healthcare professional, as part of managing an outbreak, or surveillance testing for the disease more in line with how the prevalence of other respiratory viruses is monitored.
“Planning for a transition from open access or mass scale… testing is important because as [harm] declines, the negative impacts of testing on the current scale are likely to become disproportionate to the benefits to human health.”