The UCD National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL) has reopened and resumed COVID-19 testing on Saturday 7th November after being closed for the past two weekends due to “unavoidable staff shortages”. 

The College Tribune reported on the 23rd of October that the NVRL, which is the largest COVID-19 swab test centre in Ireland, would not be able to process any Coronavirus swabs on the weekends of the 24th of October, and the 31st of November following an urgent notification on the NVRL website on the 22nd of October. 

According to the NVRL notification, these weekend closures would have no impact on testing responses as the 600 daily tests ordinarily conducted by the NVRL would be completed by other community laboratories and Hospital Groups.

The NVRL declined to provide further comment on the closure that was announced less than 48 hours after the ‘Level 5’ of the Government’s ‘Living With Covid’ plan came into effect and the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has yet to make a comment. The HSE could not comment on whether a COVID-19 outbreak was the reason for the staff shortages in order to protect the privacy of those involved but offered the following: 

“Contingency plans have been in place in the event of an outbreak in the laboratory, since March. NVRL have split their teams in two to ensure there would not be widespread transmission of the virus and that there would be a continuation of services.

At the weekend, the NVRL ordinarily process [sic] around 600 swabs per day. Over the course of two weekends (October 24-25 and October 31- November 2), these swabs were tested by alternative community labs. Week-day operations at the NVRL continued. Weekend testing will resume this weekend, November 7.

The HSE processes approximately 17,000 tests per day. These measures had no negative impact on testing responses as we are still working within our available capacity.”

This statement comes after HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid apologised to the 2,000 people who tested positive for COVID-19 in early October and were asked to do their own contact tracing following a dramatic surge in cases and increased demand for the HSE contact tracing service.  

Iseult O’Callaghan – Reporter