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rapid testing

Government looks to subsidise cost of antigen tests to help people buy them at a lower price

The minister wants the Government Covid Contingency Fund to cover the costs of rolling out antigen tests nationally.

THE GOVERNMENT IS looking to subsidise the cost of antigen tests to help people purchase them at a lower price, it is understood.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is believed to be working with his department and stakeholders, such as pharmacies, to lower the price of antigen tests to encourage people to use them more.

While one antigen test can cost less than €10, a pack of five can cost up to €30.

With official public health experts now advising that people attending bars, restaurants and other indoor environments should consider using antigen tests a number of times a week, the government is aware the burden of cost on the public to adhere to such advice. 

Pharmacies are understood to be experiencing a “considerable” rise in sales of home antigen tests, with demand expected to increase in the run-up to Christmas.

Last month, The Journal reported that Irish Pharmacy Union and the HSE had entered preliminary talks about the distribution of antigen tests to the wider public.

In a statement, the IPU confirmed that it has had “preliminary discussions” with the HSE regarding the role of pharmacies in antigen testing.

“These talks are at a very early stage,” said the statement.

The IPU went on to say:

“Antigen tests are now widely available in pharmacies across Ireland and have the potential to play a key role in the management of the pandemic in the coming months.

“Community pharmacies are available, as they have been throughout the pandemic, to support any public health requirements including the distribution of antigen tests were that to be recommended and required.

“Antigen tests available in pharmacies complement existing measures and can provide added reassurance as society continues to reopen.”

In the most recent minutes of a meetings of the Expert Advisory Group on Rapid Testing, it is noted that Minister Donnelly has sought advice from the group on the best method to deploy antigen tests, asking if it should be done by GPs, pharmacies, schools, and third level. 

He also asked whether to make antigen tests free to the public or to charge a nominal fee.

He requested that a report would be sent to him regarding the mass deployment of antigen tests in conjunction with the Covid-19 app, or whether it should be done geographically or by sector.

The minister noted that the Department of Health intended to bring a memo to Government outlining the broad parameters and costs of subsidising tests, in order to request funding from the Government Covid Contingency Fund.

The chair of the advisory group Mary Horgan highlighted the importance of government being prepared in the event that antigen testing would be required for broader use.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said he wants to “develop a culture of self-testing” which would mean regular testing by members of the public.

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

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