Close to 1,700 people attended the five new walk-in testing clinics in Dublin and Offaly today.

The new test centres operated by the ambulance service opened in Dublin and Tullamore this morning. The centres will be open for one week and had aimed to test up to 500 people each day.

On the number of people being tested today, HSE public health specialist Dr Miriam Owens said: "That's a very heartening number so hopefully there'll be more tomorrow and over the next number of days."

The HSE is urging those living near a walk-in test centre who do not have symptoms of Covid-19 but who are nevertheless concerned about the virus to drop in for a free test over the next seven days.

Around one in five people have no symptoms but still spread the disease.

This is of particular concern because the highly transmissible B117 variant is dominant and case numbers are rising again.

The Chief Executive of the Health Service Executive has described the contribution of the National Ambulance Service in testing people for Covid-19 as "mighty".

Another 683 cases and 18 further deaths were reported by health officials yesterday.

The new test centres have been set up to actively find asymptotic infections to get a better understanding of how and why the virus is spreading quicker in certain areas.

The five areas are Blanchardstown, Tallaght, Irishtown and Grangegorman in Dublin, and Tullamore in Co Offaly.

They are for people who are 16 and over, have no symptoms, live within 5km of the centres, and have not tested positive in the last six months.

No appointment is necessary.

The HSE said testing people with no symptoms will help to find positive cases of Covid-19 and break the chains of transmission.

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'I'd like to know one way or the other' - walk-in test centres proving popular

HSE Director of Public Health for the Midlands Dr Una Fallon has said Tullamore was one of the five locations picked for the walk-in Covid testing because of a "relatively high rate" of infections in Co Offaly. 

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, she said people are invited to come and get tested at one of the five test centres if for some reason they suspect they could have Covid-19.

She said it is specifically for those who do not have symptoms and who are aged 16 and over. Dr Fallon said people need to bring ID and a valid mobile phone number.

"The purpose is to assess the level of asymptomatic infection in the community", she said.

If a person tests positive having been tested at the walk-in centres, they will be contacted by the contact tracing centres.

She said contact tracing going back 14 days, and asking people about every individual they were in contact with, is not always an efficient way to determine the source of infection.

Dr Fallon said: "For every case that is associated with any complicated setting, they get referred back to us and we take a history that is specific to that setting."

She said the rates in Co Offaly are driven by a few incidents that have to play out.

"We have an outbreak in one particular workplace and we have done a lot of testing in that setting and uncovered a lot of asymptomatic infection and we are doing another round of testing," Dr Fallon said.

She said the HSE believes with another outbreak in the area in a crèche all cases have been detected.

"The numbers are likely to come down once those outbreaks subside," she said, adding that she expects the situation in Offaly to pass. 

Dr Fallon appealed to people ahead of the Easter holidays asking "people to have a quiet Easter and to enjoy the outdoors but stay away from other people".

Reporting by George Lee, Laura Hogan