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'Three antigen tests over three days' before PCR for under-40s who are symptomatic

The HSE has said further information about registering close contacts will be made available on Monday.

THE HSE HAS said that symptomatic people urged to take an antigen test before booking a PCR will be sent out a box of tests in the post.  

As part of efforts to ease the pressure on the testing system, new testing and isolation guidelines were announced last night

Among the changes announced, people aged four to 39 years with symptoms are now being asked to self-isolate immediately and take regular antigen tests instead of immediately booking a PCR test. 

People in this group are being told to only book a PCR test after they have a positive antigen result.

As part of this approach, the Department of Health has said it is working with the HSE to have antigen tests available for home delivery to people aged 4-39 from 3 January.

The reasons home antigen tests are being provided for this group is to prioritise PCR testing for those in older age groups, healthcare workers and other vulnerable categories. 

In response to queries from The Journal about the further rollout antigen testing, the HSE said that people will be able to book their antigen tests and have them delivered to their home. 

“They will receive a box of antigen tests and they should do three tests,” the HSE said in a statement.

They should do the first test as soon as possible, the 2nd test 24 hours later and the 3rd test 24 hours after that. It is very important that anyone with symptoms of Covid-19 self-isolate, if their antigen tests remain negative, they should continue to self-isolate until 48 hours after their symptoms have passed.

The statement adds: “Anyone who has a positive antigen test should  continue to self-isolate and book a confirmatory PCR test online with the HSE. If their PCR is positive, this will confirm their diagnosis and they will be reported in case statistics and included in contact tracing as usual. It will also enable them to access any illness benefits and recovery certificates needed in the future.” 

The new approach in asking aged 4-39 to not book an immediate PCR has led to questions about whether this would slow the contact tracing process. 

Speaking today, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that people who have Covid symptoms and a positive antigen test will be able to list their close contacts through a HSE web portal. 

The department later confirmed that people will still be required to have a confirmatory PCR test before they can engage with the HSE’s contact tracing process.

The HSE has a specific page for reporting antigen testing and says new information will be provided on Monday. 

“The government has announced changes to public health advice that start on 3 January. We will update this information then,” the HSE says on its website

Opposition criticism

Opposition parties have called for the rollout of free antigen tests to the wider population. 

“There is a shortage of antigen tests in the community and prices are rapidly increasing. What is needed right now is for these to be given for free to all healthcare workers who are on the frontline of this pandemic. I have written to the HSE CEO asking for this to be implemented,” Labour’s Duncan Smith TD said today. 

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane TD also said antigen tests must be made “free and accessible”. 

“We need to utilise all tools available to us to suppress the spread of Covid-19, so it therefore beggars belief that the government continues to dither when it comes to a public rollout of antigen testing,” he said.

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