The Government is facing calls to back the adoption of antigen testing to help parts of the economy reopen amid the delay in the rollout of vaccines.
Isme chief executive Neil McDonnell said the policy of relying on the health restrictions and waiting for the vaccines to defeat the disease should be allied to the adoption of antigen testing to help the economy open up.
Mr McDonnell said the hitches in the supply of vaccines has shown that National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) should fully back antigen testing as many European countries have already done.
The rate of false negatives under the antigen testing was not by itself a sufficient reason to further delay using the tests, as a number of firms and industries have shown. “They need to take a decision very quickly on this,” Mr McDonnell said.
Aidan Flynn, general managers at hauliers group Freight Transport Association Ireland, said antigen tests had proven their worth for Irish truckers travelling into the continent through Britain.
The French authorities, he said, had dropped the requirement on all Irish trucks coming directly by sea from Irish ports for a test to be taken 72 hours before arrival, but still required them for hauliers travelling down through the so-called landbridge on British motorways on their way to France.
Mr Flynn said the small number of positive tests for Covid had persuaded the French to drop the requirement for tests on the direct Irish-France sea routes for lone workers such as hauliers.
However, the German authorities still require an antigen test for hauliers travelling into or through Germany, he said, showing there was a piecemeal but widely-adopted system of antigen testing in many parts of Europe. Antigen testing "is a model that has been proven and could be extended”, Mr Flynn said.
Many European countries have adopted them as a cheap and effective way for parts of their industries to live with the virus, adding that antigen testing was giving “peace of mind” to hauliers and their families and employers, he said.
The four antigen testing centres for hauliers in the Republic – Dublin Airport for Dublin Port, Gorey, Rosslare Port, and at Cork Airport for Cork Port – are running successfully, he said.
Antigen testing will suit certain industries but that any testing needs to go hand-in-hand with enforcement measures to build credibility, Mr Flynn said.
Gerard Brady, chief economist at Ibec, said the business group is preparing new forecasts which will underscore the importance of vaccines in getting the economy back to full financial health.
“Any company we speak to says their financial planning for the whole year is reliant on them understanding when the vaccine rollout will start to work, and when they can start to see different dates being hit,” Mr Brady said.
Many businesses are looking for the restrictions to be lifted in the coming months as the vaccines are rolled out and that “by the end of summer, hopefully, there will be a return of normal rhythm for people’s lives”, Mr Brady said.