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Covid close contacts are receiving antigen tests in the post today – here's how it will work

The system is for people who are both fully vaccinated and do not have symptoms of Covid.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE FIRST BATCHES of antigen test kits are arriving in post boxes around the country today as the Government ramps up use of the rapid testing method. 

The tests are less accurate than the gold standard PCR and their use has been the subject of intense debate throughout the coronavirus pandemic. 

At present they are only being posted out to vaccinated people who were close contacts of confirmed Covid cases and who do not have symptoms of the disease.

However, the Taoiseach said yesterday that a “more wider use of antigen tests is certainly on the cards.”

The tests are also currently being used in hospitals, further and higher education settings, childcare services and places where there is a Covid outbreak.

Here’s how the system will work

Fully-vaccinated people do not need to restrict their movements after close contact with a confirmed case as long as they have no symptoms.

They will receive a phone call from a contact tracer who will take address details and the antigen tests will be delivered by An Post in the regular post.

Close contacts who do have symptoms are being instructed to book a PCR test rather than being sent the antigen kits.

The tests should arrive within two business days. People are being sent five tests, three to use over the course of five days and two spares.

The health service is instructing people to carry out the first test on the day they receive the kits. They should carry out the second test two days later and the third one two days after the second.

People will have to administer the tests themselves using the swab provided to take a sample from their nose.

The test should be done on a clean, clear and dry flat surface. People should also wash their hands thoroughly before carrying out the test.

Here’s an instructional video from the HSE:

Source: HSE Ireland/YouTube

If any of the three antigen tests produce a positive result for Covid-19 the person is required to stay at home and book a PCR test.

If the PCR returns a negative result, they can come out of isolation and they do not need to do another antigen test.

If the PCR is positive they need to self-isolate and avoid contact with other people completely. They should only come out of isolation if they need urgent medical attention.

The period of self-isolation can be ended when the person hasn’t had a fever for five days and it has been 10 days since they first developed symptoms.

Positive cases who don’t develop symptoms can leave their isolation 10 days after their PCR test, as long as they did not develop any symptoms.

What about close contacts who aren’t fully vaccinated?

People who aren’t fully vaccinated have to get a PCR test and restrict their movements, even if they have no symptoms of Covid.

They will not be given the option to do the antigen tests. A contact tracer will phone them to arrange the PCR.

People with a weak immune system may need to get a PCR test even if they are fully vaccinated.

What if you had Covid before and aren’t vaccinated?

People who tested positive on a PCR in the previous two weeks do not need to do another test. They must self-isolate until 10 days after their first positive result.

Those who tested positive more than two weeks ago but less than nine months ago do not need to do another test or restrict their movements. They are considered to have immunity against Covid-19

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People who tested positive more than nine months ago are no longer considered immune and will have to follow the general advice for close contacts listed above, which vary depending on whether they are vaccinated and on whether they have symptoms.

Why has there been controversy around antigen tests?

Unlike PCR tests, which are carried out in a lab and can take up to 48 hours to give a result, antigen tests are very quick, usually giving a result within 15 minutes.

However, they are not as accurate – particularly for those without symptoms.

Prominent members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) have previously dismissed using the method and modelling expert Professor Philip Nolan even compared the tests to “snake oil” in May.

Nolan’s comments were described as unhelpful by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly who said antigen testing is a part of Government policy when it comes to reopening society.  

Earlier this year, an expert group recommended that the self-administered tests should be rolled out across a number of settings.

The group added that authorities should “educate and engage the public with respect to all aspects of rapid tests”.

In recent weeks NPHET said cited the high incidence of Covid-19 in the community in saying that the HSE should implement a programme of antigen testing, followed by PCR confirmation, for fully vaccinated people who are deemed to be close contacts but who have no symptoms.

Wider roll-out

The Taoiseach said that the Government is considering a wider roll out of antigen test kits as part of an effort to develop a culture of self-testing.

“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,” Michaél Martin said.

“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 added.

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

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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