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Varadkar: Antigen tests may be sent to schools to test close contacts of pupils

The Taoiseach aims to roll out rapid tests more generally, he says.

Image: Shutterstock/Ink Drop

Updated Oct 28th 2021, 6:14 PM

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has said antigen tests may be rolled out in schools to test close contact of pupils. 

Varadkar said that rapid tests could be given to children in a school pod where there has been a confirmed case.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn said that NPHET is analysing the Covid-19 incidence in children aged 5-12, which is currently the age group with the highest incidence of Covid-19.

Speaking in Mullingar, Varadkar said it is not a surprise to see that level of infection in that age group. 

He said the government anticipates offering the vaccine to primary school children in the next few months.

“One of the things that NPHET is going to give consideration to now is whether we need to look again at the issue of contact tracing because if somebody is a close contact of somebody who has Covid and they’re not in school they will be offered a PCR test if they’re positive and an antigen test if they’re not,” he said.

“And it may be the case that we might have to apply that to schools as well, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean every child in the class being tested, but it might mean kids in a pod for example.

“So if one kid gets infected then it might make sense to test all the kids in the pod as well using rapid test,” he said.

Varadkar said he does not anticipate the closure of schools or extending the mid-term break. 

He said they did not want to go back to a scenario where children were missing out on ten days school due to Covid-19 outbreaks.

His comments come as the Taoiseach said the government is considering rolling out rapid antigen test kits more generally.

From today, close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case who are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic are to receive a box of antigen tests from today.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly announced this morning that the HSE system for sending antigen tests to close contacts has gone live, and that from today people will be sent boxes of five rapid tests in the post.

Speaking in UCD today, Micheál Martin said: “We are now dealing close contacts as of today.

“We should develop a culture of self-testing and that would be regular and that would be something that people would do in the right circumstances, with the right advice.

“There will be a communications campaign around the proper use of antigen tests because the expert review group did ascertain there is a need for proper advice for the utilisation of such tests as a supplement to PCR.”

He said that antigen testing will be a “further weapon” in the Government’s armoury to deal with the current wave of Covid.

The free antigen tests are available to anyone aged 13 and over.

Speaking on Newstalk this morning, he said:

“We’re going to start sending them out today. We expect households to start getting them tomorrow.”

All close contacts will get a text message which states that if not fully vaccinated and / or symptomatic they will be referred for a PCR test and if fully vaccinated and asymptomatic they will be sent antigen tests to do at home.

The text message will be followed up by a call from the contact tracers who will go through their vaccination history, symptoms and do the referral as appropriate for either PCR or antigen testing.

The contact tracer will take address details and antigen tests will be delivered by An Post in the regular post.

Close contacts who fall into the category for antigen testing will receive a box of five antigen tests and will be asked to do three tests – the first test on the day they receive their test kit, the second test two days later and the third test two days after that.

If antigen tests are positive we are requesting close contacts book a PCR test – as part of that booking process they will be asked to tick that they had a positive antigen result. If a close contact develops symptoms while they are in the process of doing antigen testing they need to self-isolate and book a PCR test.

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Those whose antigen tests are negative are also asked to report their negative results via the HSE website.

Separately, the Taoiseach was asked about comments made by Dr Ronan Glynn yesterday evening, where he said that parents should consider if their children need to be part of every activity.

“We have received no advice in terms of children not playing outdoor sports or being engaged in outdoor activity,” Martin added.

“I think one of the dangers of the next phase is, because of the nature of our weather, that you’re going to get far more indoor activity, which can be a factor in the spread.

“I think the more outdoor activities that we can continue with, the better.

“I would be concerned also about mental well being of children. That’s very important.

“I met with Pieta House and different organisations, they’ve always articulated to us the concern around anxiety levels.”

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