Taoiseach differs from public health experts on antigen testing

Taoiseach differs from public health experts on antigen testing

Speaking in Sligo, Mr Martin said he believed the 15-minute Covid tests could play a role in further reopenings. Picture: James Connolly

The Taoiseach has said he differs from public health experts on antigen testing as he indicated it could play a bigger role in society from this week.

Micheál Martin said he had greater enthusiasm for the use of antigen testing than the "moderate" views expressed by many of the country's leading public health experts. 

The final report of the Rapid Testing Group on antigen testing was published in April. 

It saw four of the six members approve the rollout of lateral flow antigen tests (LFAT) and loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) testing as a "compliment" to the existing testing regime. 

However, aside from pilot events, the use of antigen tests has been restricted amid warnings from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

Speaking in Sligo, Mr Martin said he believed the 15-minute Covid tests could play a role in further reopenings.

The Government will on Tuesday reveal what further public health restrictions will be eased this Friday – a day that had been scheduled for a full reopening of society until Covid cases spiked again.

"I'm a strong believer in antigen testing," Mr Martin said. 

"Our public health officials have a more moderated perspective on the value of antigen testing. But some sectors have rolled out antigen testing and that's something that the Government will be considering."

Mr Martin also denied the Government was differing from the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn in promoting a phased return to workplaces.

Dr Glynn has cautioned against a widespread return to offices despite the Government being in favour of it.

Dr Glynn urged people to continue to work from home where possible. 

Cork Jazz Festival

Tuesday's announcement will be closely watched by the organisers of the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, which takes place this weekend. 

Venue operators had been preparing to operate at full capacity for the festival but the recent spike in Covid cases has created uncertainty about what shape the festival will take. 

Mr Martin told the Irish Examiner the Government was aware of time pressures for events due to start this weekend, but it could not make a decision on public health restrictions until all available data was considered. 

"The Government wants to provide that clarity. Obviously, we understand people were anticipating that they would be reopening this week. 

But with the rise in cases and so on, this isn't an absence of clarity, essentially it's Covid behaving in a certain way – it's caused an increase in the number of cases, an increase in hospitalisation and ICU admissions."

The Taoiseach said it was not a mistake for the Government to announce this Friday as a day when nearly all Covid restrictions would be lifted.

"Back then we were on a very good trajectory and indeed up to the last week, public health was positive enough of all the way things were going."

The Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney have said they are confident the jazz festival will go ahead, even if some adjustments must be made. 

The Taoiseach signalled the continuation of vaccine passes could be used for the festival.

He said mask-wearing and the continuation of Covid certs were "items on the agenda" for Tuesday's Cabinet meeting. 

This could include the use of Covid certs in nightclubs, as they reopen for the first time in 20 months.

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