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Ireland is aiming to almost double coronavirus testing to 4,500 a day.

It comes at the start of what Health Minister Simon Harris has described as a “really crucial week” in the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Sunday, it was announced that 21 more patients diagnosed with Covid-19 had died in Ireland, bringing the overall death toll to 158.

And 390 new cases were confirmed, bringing the total number of detections to 4,994.

Ireland is aiming to almost double coronavirus testing to 4,500 a day.

Health Service Executive chief Paul Reid made the announcement on Sunday but cautioned the supply of the chemicals for the testing reagent remain a “significant worldwide challenge”.

He revealed that due to an increase of laboratory capacity, testing will increase from an average of 2,500 to 4,500 a day.

Testing had dropped to 1,500 a day late last week due to issues with the availability of the testing reagent.

Mr Reid said that a German lab is now completing 2,000 tests per day for Ireland, but that the HSE is “still looking at other EU solutions”.

Negotiations are also ongoing with firms in Ireland about supplying the reagent chemicals.

Mr Reid also gave an update on ventilators to help treat those who become seriously ill, saying there are currently 1,100 ventilators in Ireland.

More had been secured and are being tested, with 250 expected to be delivered to hospitals this week, he added.

On human resources, Mr Reid said 70,000 applications have been received in response to Ireland’s call for more help.

Of these, 27,000 are “self-identified” with relevant work experience and 820 have been progressed over the last week.

Earlier Garda Deputy Commissioner John Twomey urged members of the public to continue social distancing ahead of the expected coronavirus peak.

“We want to thank people for the high level of compliance with the health guidelines,” said the senior officer who heads up the Garda’s National Covid-19 Co-ordination Centre.

“It is vital that continues today and for the rest of the time they are due to be in place.

“By working together and keeping to the HSE advice, we can flatten the curve and save lives.”

Mr Twomey added that people should continue to stay home, exercise within 2km of their home, and carry on social distancing.

“The HSE guidelines are designed to ensure that we stop the spread of Covid-19 and we reduce the risk to our friends and families. It is in all our interests that they are adhered to,” he added.

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