People should not rely on antigen testing as an accurate measure of Covid-19 infection, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has said.
Interest in antigen tests has increased since the Government's Covid-19 rapid testing group recommended wider use of the tests in certain settings. Lidl supermarkets are now selling these tests and many industries have started using them as a way to bring workers back on site.
“I’m very concerned about that, supermarkets are very free to sell what they want," Dr Holohan said today, adding that people should not buy or use them.
He said the tests are significantly less accurate in areas with low prevalence of the virus. And he is worried about people getting a false negative and continuing to go to work or interact socially, which could lead to the virus spreading in many locations.
Dr Holohan described a situation where people buy charcoal and sausages for a group barbecue and also pick up a batch of antigen tests for perceived safety as “a real risk to our pandemic response“.
He said: “If these tests are not used properly, they have little role to play. There is a view out there that they make a contribution, if you pick up one more test that’s a good thing.
Dr Holohan said the tests can be used in structured settings and have proven valuable in those settings.
Dr Ray Wally, a member of the national GP liaison committee, said he unfortunately had experience of patients who had tested negative with antigen tests but were in fact positive.
One person was using the tests to confirm fitness for work, but was ignoring symptoms which indicated Covid-19 due to the repeated negative results.
Meanwhile, case numbers continue to plummet in the North due to the success of its vaccination programme. Outdoor pubs have reopened along with some beauty services.
This week, the North's health minister, Robin Swann, wrote to his counterpart in the south, Stephen Donnelly, highlighting his concerns about cross-border travel from Ireland.
Non-essential cross-border travel must be stopped “by enforcement if required”, he warned referring to a spike in Covid-19 cases along the border.
Dr Holohan said we must respect this position. He said: “The situation is much better there than it is here.”
He said cross-border non-essential travel could only take place when there is “really no difference in the epidemiological terms between the two sides of the island".
As the vaccine rollout picks up speed, some people are asking GPs if they can choose their vaccine. However, Dr Lucy Jessop, a director with the HSE’s National Immunisation Office, said: “The best vaccine for you is the vaccine you are being offered now.”
She said new studies continue to show high efficacy for all the vaccines used in Ireland.
A further four deaths were confirmed today, along with 434 additional cases. The 14-day incidence rate is 129.7 but eight counties have a higher rate of infection per 100,000 of population. Kerry has the lowest rate at 14.9.
There is now 12% of the adult population vaccinated. Some 32% have had their first dose with a total of over 1.7m doses given up to Wednesday.
Dr Ronan Glynn, the deputy chief medical officer, said there are now 73 cases of the B.1351 South African variant and 28 of the PI Brazilian variant. The UK variant B.117 continues to dominate.