THE government has sought to clear up confusion over who should be tested for coronavirus.

t comes after some 40,000 patients who were suspected of having the coronavirus by their GP in the past week learned they may no longer be eligible for a test.

GPs were told that the health service was abandoning the previous “test, test, test” strategy.

The tightening of the rules means from now, GPs will only refer a patient for a swab test if they have a fever and also a respiratory symptom, such as a cough or shortness of breath.

They will also have to fall into a specific priority group, which will include people with underlying illnesses and health workers.

Department of the Taoiseach Assistant Secretary General Liz Canavan this morning sought to clarify the situation.

She said “all actions are designed to save lives” and insisted Ireland is “still significantly and rapidly increasing the amount of tests we carry out” so that ultimately 15,000 per day are done.

She said the National Public Help Emergency Team yesterday have made a change to the “case definition” for tests.

Ms Canavan added: “The reason they’ve changed the case definition is to give us the best chance pick up positive cases and to treat the more vulnerable people who need treatment.”

She added: “Up to now 94pc of the people have been testing negative.

“We want to find as many people as possible with Covid-19 so that we can isolate them and contain the spread.”

She said: “The key advice for members of the public has not changed.

“If you have symptoms, stay at home, assume you have this disease, contact your GP and your GP will guide you from there.”

She said there is guidelines on the symptoms in the coronavirus booklet that’s being sent to all households.

Separately Ms Canavan addressed the issue of construction sites remaining in operation while other workplaces are restricted.

The Construction Industry Federation met yesterday and agreed that the number one priority is to implement social distancing guidelines and contractors have been given 48 hours to comply.

Every site is to have a designated person responsible for overseeing social distancing and the construction sector is being advised by the Health and Safety Authority and the HSE.

Ms Canavan also said the government is working to help repatriate more than 2,000 citizens stranded in 86 countries around the world.

She said: “The situation is really fast-moving and volatile. What we have seen in recent days is not only countries, but entire regions, close off airspace and ground airlines at short notice.”

She said 170 – including some doctors – who were in Australia are due to return today.

The government is working with Aer Lingus and British Airways to bring Irish citizens home from Peru where there is a strict lockdown in place.

Any citizens in Peru who have yet to contact the Irish Embassy in Santiago, Chile have been asked to do so.

With schools closed she said RTÉ Two will begin home-schooling programming from Monday March 30.

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