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Taoiseach refuses to pin down decision date for antigen test subsidy scheme

In schools, antigen tests are due to roll from Monday.

Image: Oireachtas

Updated Nov 24th 2021, 1:25 PM

THE TAOISEACH WOULD not specify when Cabinet will make a decision on a much-anticipated subsidy scheme for antigen testing in the Dáil this afternoon.

It had been expected that a proposal would come before Cabinet yesterday on the plan to reduce the cost of the tests, but no memo was brought.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that a memo should be ready to come before Cabinet by the end of this week or next Tuesday.

However, during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil today, Taoiseach Micheál Martin would not pin down a date for when a decision on the scheme will be made.

Social Democrats leader Róisín Shorthall asked the Taoiseach when the government will decide on the details of the scheme.

“Do we have to wait another week and why can’t you inform people this week?” she asked.

The Taoiseach said that there has been a “significant expansion of the use of antigen testing given out freely by the government” to close contacts.

“At the end of Friday the 19th of November for example, about 61,000 fully vaccinated asymptomatic close contracts were registered for delivery of free antigen kits,” he said.

“There is a scheme being developed, but we had to get best value as well for the public purse. That’s important that we just don’t dive into it and so on.

“That will that will happen and we will bring the details to you. That is our intention to do that.”

Minister for Education Norma Foley has said that antigen testing will be rolled out across schools from Monday.

Schools and parents of pupils are expected to be informed of the specifics of the new system in the coming days.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Foley said that the antigen testing will be rolled out as “an additional tool” for schools to help curb the spread of Covid-19.

She said: “The CMO has now determined there is a role for antigen testing in our schools as an additional tool in our schools. It will be operational from the 29th, which is next Monday. All guidance will be made to schools this week and to parents also.”

However, it will be up to the parents to decide whether or not they want their child to be tested.

Official government policy states: “It is not mandatory for children to participate in antigen testing. Children who are in a pod where a child has tested positive for Covid-19 can continue to attend school, whether they participate in antigen testing or not, provided that they are not experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.”

Asked why there was a delay in bringing in the antigen testing regime when experts had been calling for its introduction seven months ago, Foley said that there had previously been a “difference of opinion” in relation to the efficacy of rapid testing.

“It’s only as I suppose new evidence emerges that you know, views and opinions can change and indeed, we found that throughout Covid, that new evidence becomes available, then we pivot in a particular direction,” she said.

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“So the CMO and NPHET are now convinced that there’s significant evidence available to them, particularly I suppose, in relation to the guidance provided by the ECDC in relation to the antigen rollout.”

Despite the rollout of the testing, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said it still has problems with how the Government is dealing with the crisis in schools.

There is a significant gap in the number of teachers who are either out sick with Covid or who are self-isolating.
John Boyle, general secretary of INTO, said that huge pressure is on the education system and that there is a “disconnect” between the figures being reported and the figures on the ground.

The reintroduction of contact tracing could ease that burden, he added.

“The week before last we were hearing that there were four outbreaks in primary schools and 16 children infected whereas another set of data is showing that we now have 10,500 children infected so there seems to be a disconnect there,” Boyle said.

“I would be able to name maybe 400 schools in south Dublin alone that had breakouts in that fortnight. What I would suggest would happen would be that, you know, once the test centres get back on an even keel that would be a bigger focus on PCR testing, but that the children who would have to be PCR tested, they wouldn’t be off school for two weeks.

“I mean, if they got the right result in the test, surely it’s possible for them to return to school fairly quickly after that.”

With reporting by Lauren Boland

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