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State could buy 500,000 antigen tests per week as Govt told rapid testing may play 'important role'

Ireland is understood to have two million rapid tests in stock.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

A NEW REPORT for Government on the use of rapid antigen tests has concluded that they may play an “important part” of future Covid-19 testing programmes.

The Interim Report of the Expert Advisory Group on Rapid Testing says that although the tests do not identify all cases of Covid-19, there is significant evidence that rapid tests “are more likely to identify current infection in asymptomatic individuals”.

The report also concludes that the tests are cheap and can be deployed at scale.

While the cost of the rapid tests is cited as a positive, minutes of one of the last meetings held by the group in August notes that “tests are beginning to become harder to
purchase”.

The expert group said this would be communicated to governmental officials, but said the cost/finance and the availability/accessibility of rapid tests is outside the terms of reference of the group.

It noted that it is an important issue to highlight to government departments for consideration.

However, it is understood that unit costs are a matter for the HSE to negotiate, and are not being flagged as a risk to supply.

Ireland is understood to have two million tests in the country with an ability to buy around 500,000 more per week.&

Rapid antigen tests are already being used or piloted, as part of outbreak response in the community, acute hospitals, meat processing plants, residential care facilities, childcare facilities and higher educational settings in addition to their use in some private sectors.

The group says that it has engaged with representatives from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment around their priorities for the use of antigen testing in different activities and settings.

These include the use of antigen testing at business conferences, dining and outdoor concerts. The group said that once a risk assessment framework is developed, advice will be provided to each department about the appropriate use of antigen testing for these activities.

The report said there are concerns about the public’s “misconceptions” around antigen testing, stating that public awareness will be key in any subsequent roll out.  

A negative rapid result should not be used as a “green light” for an individual to ignore or bypass current public health advice, the report stated.

The public understanding “presents a clear set of communications challenges”, it added.

This is the fourth report produced here during the pandemic on antigen tests, with the full report due to be published shortly.

It was announced this week that antigen tests would be used by fully vaccinated people who are deemed to be close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case, but who have no symptoms.

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The HSE said it will be rolling out antigen testing for close contacts “from the end of next week”.

Niamh O’Beirne, head of testing and tracing in the HSE, said the newly launched online portal will allow members of the public to report their results.

During this today’s press briefing, O’Beirne explained that vaccinated close contacts who don’t have symptoms will be sent five antigen tests and asked to use three of them every second day.

Should they test positive they will be asked to self-isolate and seek a PCR test via the HSE. For those who get a negative result, they will be asked to record their test via the online portal.

For unvaccinated or symptomatic close contacts, they will be asked to get a PCR test instead.

She added that full guidance and details around the kits will be on the HSE website in the coming days.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed that antigen tests will have an “enhanced role” and that tests will be sent to symptomless fully vaccinated close contacts of confirmed cases.

“A more wider use of antigen tests is certainly on the cards,” the Taoiseach said in response to a question from The Journal.

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