DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland has failed to reach its target to carry out 100,000 coronavirus tests per week and will not meet it until the week of May 18, three weeks later than planned, a senior health official said on Tuesday.

Health officials have said the ability to quickly test and isolate anyone who catches the virus is a key component in the debate over whether to ease stay-home restrictions now in place until May 5.

Ireland imposed its most severe constraints on March 29 and the country’s chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, reiterated on Tuesday that he will not be able to recommend any easing unless more progress on the spread and impact of the disease is made.

Holohan set the 100,000 testing capacity target on April 17 and said the health service planned to meet it within 10 days, enabling it to widen the net of possible patients that can be tested.

At a news conference, Cillian De Gascun, chair of Ireland’s coronavirus expert advisory group, said testing capacity had been increased to 60,000 tests per week, falling short of the target.

That would be a factor on Friday when health chiefs make recommendations on the restrictions, he said, but the rates of new cases, hospitalisations and admissions to intensive care units would be the main considerations.

Ireland reported 229 new cases on Friday to bring its total to 19,877, with 1,159 deaths. The health service had carried out 153,054 tests by the end of Monday, with just over 41,000 performed over the last week.

Acting Health Minister Simon Harris said the lowest daily rise in new cases in almost a month was good news but that while the number of patients in intensive care had fallen to 117 around from a peak of 160, it was still very high.

He added that the government hoped to produce its roadmap on how it plans to gradually unwind the measures to contain the spread of the virus “in and around the end of this week.”

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Peter Graff)

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