The mass rollout of serial rapid antigen testing could see the country “potentially dispense with mandatory hotel quarantine” and help reopen the aviation industry in a safe manner, the Government’s chief scientific advisor has said.
Speaking at a meeting of the Oireachtas transport committee on Wednesday, Professor Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland, called for immediate action on rolling out pilot schemes for antigen testing.
Antigen testing is a rapid self-testing kit, which does not need to go to a laboratory, and which detects infectious people.
The scientific community is divided on the benefits of these tests as they are less accurate than PCR tests, but are considerably cheaper, costing between €5 and €9. They have a false positive rate of about one in 1,000.
Prof. Ferguson said modelling from the UK showed serial antigen testing was “as effective as quarantine” in finding and isolating infectious individuals.
Under the modelling, travellers into the UK test themselves every day for 10 days using rapid testing, take a photograph of test and bar code and upload it to the IT system.
If they fail to upload the results, they receive a follow-up reminder, and continued failure to upload results would result in being contacted by designated staff.
Prof. Ferguson has recommended that the Irish Government begin a similar pilot programme for essential workers coming into the country.
“In terms of mandatory hotel quarantine, that becomes a very interesting situation as travel begins to open up. I think it’s really important to do these pilots soon and quickly. If you start with essential workers, find out what the compliance is like, find out what the IT system is like, find out how easy it is to do,” he said.
“Then you are in a very good position to think about whether or not you could roll it out more widely and potentially dispense with mandatory quarantine.”
Prof. Ferguson published a report on the role of rapid antigen testing last month, but has not had any communication with the Department of Transport since its publication.
There are currently pilots of antigen testing in the higher education sector.