Mask wearing could become a thing of the past for fully vaccinated people, the Tánaiste has suggested.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised that fully vaccinate people can “resume activities without wearing a mask of physically distancing”, except where required by law or local regulations.
Asked if Ireland would introduce the same measures, Leo Varadkar said the advice of the CDC has tended to be adopted in Ireland.
He said: “All I can say is I’m aware of the CDC advice.
“It has been the pattern that we tend to adopt similar advice as the CDC.
“But bear in mind that the US are ahead of us in the vaccination programme.
“Not much, but they are ahead of us.”
Mr Varadkar described the CDC as the American Nphet, adding: “Often what they advise is what we advise.
“So if you look at the vaccine goals that we have, in terms of allowing people who are vaccinated to meet up outdoors, that was initially advice that was first put out there by the CDC.
“They have 300 million people, huge resources.
“Often what they deem to be scientific safe is something that other authorities follow.
“It’s for the HSE now to examine, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we adopted their advice as we have done in the past.”
Mr Varadkar was speaking at the publication of an updated Government protocol for workplaces on the use of antigen testing.
He said: “We are encouraging our employers to deploy antigen testing in workplaces.
“But we’re very much emphasising that this is an additional health and safety measure.
“It should not be seen as a passport to do anything that you wouldn’t be doing anyway, and should not be seen as a substitute for all the other things like ventilation, social distancing, mask wearing.”
Controversy has surrounded the use of antigen testing among the wider public, with Nphet divided on the issue.
Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan and Nphet modelling group chair Philip Nolan have pointedly asked the public not to use them.
But fellow Nphet member Mark Ferguson, who authored a Government report on their use, has advocated for their more widespread use.
Mr Varadkar said the Government has adopted the report.
It recommends that Ireland deploys the tests and “provide good self-administration instructions, training and reading (e.g. through bar code or smart phone), allowing people to take control over their health”.
Asked why the Government has opted against providing the public with advice for proper use of the test, the Tanaiste said: “The position from Government is that it’s really for schools, colleges, workplaces.
“We want to encourage the use of antigen testing, not so much individuals doing so.
“One, because there is a high chance that they may not use the test correctly.
“It is different putting on a mask carrying out a swab.
“I’m sure people could be taught to do it.
“But they will need to be taught to do it, not just figure out for themselves at home.
“We want to avoid false reassurance of people taking the view that because they’ve tested negative, this is a licence to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.”
He said a public information campaign could be seen as a “harm reduction strategy”.
“That if people are going to do anyway, you may as well give them some advice on how to do it.
“But what we’d really like to do first is to have this up and running for schools, colleges, workplaces, before we get into that space,” he said.
“Bear in mind the relaxation programme is going really well.
“We might get to the point in a few weeks time where we don’t need them at all.”
Friday saw 425 additional confirmed cases of Covid-19 and four further deaths, the deputy CMO Dr Glynn said.