Research into rapid Covid testing and wearable PPE to benefit from €5.5m fund

Research into rapid Covid testing and wearable PPE to benefit from €5.5m fund

Higher education minister Simon Harris launched the grants in Dublin today, saying that the virus "could be with us for some time. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

An online citizens' forum, rapid saliva-testing for Covid-19 and more wearable, reusable PPE are among the coronavirus research projects being funded in a €5.5m "statement of intent".

Higher education Minister Simon Harris launched the grants in Dublin, saying that the virus "could be with us for some time", meaning that research around testing, detection, and prevention on surfaces were all necessary within the next 18 months.

The Science Foundation Ireland-led Covid-19 Rapid Response Research and Innovation Programme will see 41 projects receive funding into the different aspects of the virus, with Mr Harris saying that research was needed to ensure that Ireland could live alongside the virus going forward.

"It's really important when we talk about living alongside the virus and, knowing that this pandemic is going to be with us for quite a considerable length of time, that we invest in a broad range in trying to improve people's lives and safeguard from the virus," he said.

Part of the funding will go towards an online forum which will allow people give their opinions on the country's response to the pandemic, while other money will assist researchers from TU Dublin to develop a saliva-based screening process which can detect Covid-19 in a matter of minutes which, they say, could provide an "accessible testing solution suitable for use in hospitals and in community settings".

The Government's chief science advisor Professor Mark Ferguson said that the test could be used by businesses to test customers.

Professor Mark Ferguson with higher education minister Simon Harris.
Professor Mark Ferguson with higher education minister Simon Harris.

"So if you have a virus in your saliva, then you have the potential to produce an aerosol transmitted contaminant to someone else," he said.

"But you could have the virus or could have recovered from the virus. And so people are looking at that and they're looking at a rather quick test that might be able to be done in the future to know whether you're contagious and that's very important. 

"For example, if you were going to a barbershop or a restaurant or flying on a plane, or what have you."

Mr Harris said that the funding was a "statement of intent".

"Nobody knows how long the virus will be with us," he said. 

"At this time I think it is clear that this is something that's going to be with us for quite a period of time. So we have even before my appointments, during the times of Minister Humphreys as Minister for Business and Research and Minister Halligan on how we can apply and start working with Science Foundation Ireland to invest money in research to try and make sure that Ireland is doing everything we can domestically, but also feeding into the international thinking on the virus.

"And I suppose what we're doing today is really a statement of intent that politicians can't just say, we're going to work out a way of living alongside the virus, but not actually research to work new and better ways to do things."

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