Antigen testing could be used by the HSE if the national Covid-19 testing system is stretched by the Delta variant, the Taoiseach has said.
Speaking at Government Buildings on Thursday afternoon, Micheál Martin said the rapid testing could be used in place of PCR testing by the HSE.
He said the tests could play a part in the reopening of indoor dining in the near future, but said it was likely they will be used in the overall testing system first.
"They [antigen tests] may have a role to play, maybe not immediately, but they may have an impact over time.
"The worry with the Delta variant is that we could have a very high volume of cases that will in itself put a strain on the testing and tracing system.
"No matter how good your testing, tracing system is, if we get a very high volume of cases that, so far, cannot be ruled out, obviously it's quite likely in the context of the big issue for us is the relationship with hospitalisation and severe illness.
"So that option is there, certainly in terms of a stronger State role in supplementing your PCR test with antigen testing – certainly in terms of the Delta variant in hospitality and other issues."
On the creation of a vaccine cert for hospitality, Mr Martin confirmed new legislation will be published and passed by the end of next week. He said the "short piece of legislation" would give a "solid legal framework" to the passes.
Mr Martin said a plan for reopening would be ready by July 19, but said he could not commit to a date when indoor pubs and restaurants would reopen. Talks with the hospitality industry on reopening continued on Thursday, with Vintners Federation of Ireland chief Pádraig Cribben saying six scenarios have been suggested, with a final decision to be made by Cabinet on Tuesday.
Mr Cribben said: “Our primary goal is to get our members reopened in a safe manner both for publicans, their staff and customers. If a so-called vaccine pass is what’s required then the onus is now on Government to get the legislation passed next week before the Oireachtas takes its summer break.
“There remains legal issues to be resolved but we remain insistent that pubs need to reopen on July 19. If the political will is there to make it happen then it will happen.”
The Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) has said they believe they have no option but to go along with the Government proposals for permitting indoor hospitality.
Following the latest discussions between the government and the hospitality sector, the LVA has said the choices came down to keeping hospitality closed for several more months or proceeding with a hugely challenging system.
“We don’t like this approach and we don’t want it,” said LVA Chief Executive Donall O’Keeffe.
"But when the choice comes down to this proposal or staying closed for several more months, we feel we have no option but to go along with it. "With some pubs having now been shut for almost 16 consecutive months we’re being put over a barrel because we have to get the sector open or more businesses will go bust and thousands more will lose their livelihoods," he said.
Mr O'Keeefe said the system being put forward will be open to abuse and there will be "real concerns in the coming weeks as to whether everyone claiming to be vaccinated will be."
"It is also deeply unfair and discriminatory towards hospitality staff and others who may not yet have been vaccinated or who are unable to do so for various reasons," he added.
"After the catastrophic delay experienced to date, we need the Government to be crystal clear with removing the operational challenges to their approach and achieving a July 19 reopening date,” Mr. O’Keeffe said.