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Antigen tests will be free for schools and close contacts, but not the wider public

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that antigen tests may be subsidised, but not completely paid for, by the State.

Image: Shutterstock/Photoroyalty

ANTIGEN TESTS WILL be provided for free by the Government for those in school settings and for close contacts, but not for the wider public. 

Yesterday, it was announced that those who are close contacts of a confirmed case in a household setting will have to restrict their movements for five days. Up until yesterday, close contacts did not have to restrict their movements.

A measure had already been in place for the HSE to send a pack of five antigen tests to asymptomatic close contacts, three of which are to be taken at specific intervals over a five-day period. These were being sent out for free to close contacts of confirmed cases.

It comes as guidance on how antigen tests can be used in school settings is due to be issued by the HSE today.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that they would be used for “targeted close contact testing”, and that the HSE and Department of Education were working through some “final details” with the unions.

Education Minister Norma Foley told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne that she expects that this use of antigen tests in schools will be put in place by the HSE by the end of the week. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Minister Donnelly said that antigen tests being used for outbreaks in school settings will also be free, but that they wouldn’t be made completely free for the wider public.

He said they would be subsidised “shortly”, however, with the cost to the Government to subsidise them at around “several hundred million euro”.

The advice I have is they shouldn’t be free. They have them free in the UK, and the government came under huge criticism from parliament for that, because essentially there were no controls on how they were being used at all.

When asked to explain this further, he said: “They’re very, very expensive, so everytime you subsidise an antigen test, it’s money you’re not spending on a nurse, you’re not spending on a doctor.”

 

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Donnelly said that better communication was needed on how to use antigen tests, as many people are still using them when they are symptomatic – in cases where a person has symptoms of Covid-19, they should seek a PCR test.

When asked why the Government has been reluctant to use antigen tests until now, Donnelly said: “There are thousands of tests every day being sent to households right around the country, they have been used in higher education, they have been used for serial testing in nursing homes, they’ve been used for childcare, and they’re being used in health care settings.”

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