DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland’s highest number of weekly coronavirus tests conducted to date found just 3.7% positive cases, a rate a senior health official said on Tuesday showed it was on a path towards suppressing the disease.
Ireland, which plans to reopen its economy from May 18 at a more gradual pace than many European neighbours, carried out almost 62,000 tests over the past week, up from the 41,000 a week earlier that had given a positivity rate of 12.9%.
Ireland reported 211 new cases on Tuesday to bring its total to 21,983, with 1,339 deaths. The number of new cases marked the lowest daily rise since March 29, when the government introduced its most severe restrictions.
The sharply lower number of positive confirmed cases gave an indication that there is “perhaps not as much disease out there as we might suspect,” Cillian De Gascun, the head of Ireland’s national virus laboratory, told a news conference.
“Combined with the high level of testing we are now undertaking, this gives us confidence that we are on a path towards suppression of the disease,” De Gascun added.
Ireland’s current testing capacity stands at 84,000, putting it on course to reach 100,000 by a target of May 18, De Gascun added.
The health service has prioritised 550 nursing homes for sampling over the past two weeks and has tested 91% of all staff and residents, with the remainder to be completed in coming days.
The number of positive cases among residents who had yet to be tested was also “reassuringly lower than we thought it would have been,” the Health Service Executive’s Colm Henry said after a number of deadly initial outbreaks in retirement homes.
Nursing homes account for almost one in five Irish cases and 52.7% of all deaths, according to health department data.
One of the main factors in Ireland’s cautious approach to easing restrictions has been its number of patients in hospital. Those requiring intensive care fell again on Tuesday to 90 with no new admissions on Monday, officials said.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)