Covid-19 testing: Changes to the under-pressure system explained

Coronavirus testing, © PA Wire/PA Images
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By Digital Desk Staff

With increasing pressure on Ireland’s Covid-19 test and trace system, the HSE has announced that close contacts of a confirmed case will no longer be referred for a test from Thursday.

Here is everything you need to know about the changes to the system — from why this step is being taken to what you should do if you think you may be a close contact or have symptoms of the virus.

Why is this step being taken?

The HSE said close contacts will no longer be tested as a temporary measure to maintain effective turnaround times for testing and contact tracing.

This step is being taken to ensure that those who are symptomatic are prioritised and receive a test as quickly as possible.

It is also to support contact tracing teams who are working "under significant pressure" due to the increasing positivity rates of tests.

Is the test and trace system overwhelmed?


The system has the capacity to process 25,000 tests a day and to make 7,500 successful calls to contact trace positive cases.

The HSE said the service has been in “peak escalation” over the last week, reporting numbers exceeding the system’s stated capacity.

On Wednesday, over 26,000 swabs were processed and over 2,300 calls were made to people with a detected Covid-19 result while almost 11,000 calls were made to close contacts.

Dr Colm Henry, the HSE's chief clinical officer, has described the current pressure on testing and tracing services as unsustainable.

I already have a test booking — should I still go?

If you already have a test slot booking from the HSE, please attend your appointment.

Does any of this affect me if I am not a close contact of a Covid-19 case?

Amid very high rates of positive tests seen over recent days and a widespread increase in infections in communities nationwide, the HSE is asking everyone in Ireland to stay at home.

All are being asked to behave as if they are infected with Covid-19, as such high levels are circulating in the community.

What must close contacts do now if they are no longer tested?

People who know they are a close contact of a confirmed case — whether they received a SMS notification or otherwise — should follow the existing public health guidance and restrict their movements for 14 days.

If they develop symptoms of the disease, they should immediately call their GP or GP out-of-hours service and arrange a Covid-19 test.


If the HSE is notified that a person is a close contact, they will send advice by SMS. This advice is also available here on the HSE website.

Can I still get a test if I have Covid-19 symptoms?

Those with symptoms of Covid-19 will be tested and should contact their GP or GP out-of-hours service to arrange a test.

The HSE is asking those awaiting a test to be patient, as GP services are busy amid high levels of Covid-19 in the community.

Those waiting on a test should self-isolate by staying alone in their room, in order to protect others.

My GP has already referred me for a test — will it still happen?

The HSE will offer you a test as soon as they can. You will receive this by SMS.

Those waiting on a test should continue to self-isolate by staying in their room, to protect others.

People in your household also need to restrict their movements unit you have your test result, in order to stop the spread of Covide-19 to other people.

The HSE website has advice on managing symptoms and advice on what to do if symptoms get worse.

I already received a text telling me I am a close contact — will I be tested?

The HSE will not be offering test slots to close contacts if they have not already received one.

All close contacts must stay at home for 14 days — the same requirement that would apply if they had tested positive or negative for the disease.

I think I might be a close contact — what should I do?

The advice remains that the HSE will not be carrying out any testing of non-symptomatic suspected close contacts due to pressure on the test and trace system - however, you should arrange a test through your GP if you develop symptoms.

Close contacts of a positive case need to restrict their movements for 14 days to ensure they do not pass on the disease. Advice is available here on the HSE website.

I have received a positive Covid-19 test result via SMS — what should I do now?

Those positive for Covid-19 must continue to self-isolate in their room, to protect others.

People in their household need to also restrict their movements, to stop the spread of Covid-19 to others.

The HSE will phone you to ask about your close contacts, and then send your close contacts an SMS with advice.

The advice for close contacts is on the HSE website at the link:, so you can send this link to your close contacts now if you wish.

The HSE website also has advice on managing symptoms and on what to do if symptoms get worse.

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