Explained: What is happening with rapid antigen testing?

Explained: What is happening with rapid antigen testing?

Despite widespread political support for antigen testing, scepticism from health authorities has meant that it has, until now, been viewed as the poor relation of PCR testing. File picture

Twenty months into the pandemic, and seven months after its own chief scientific officer said it was OK, the Government has finally embraced antigen testing.

Yes, Simon Harris, the higher education minister, embraced it for colleges, but in truth, he simply defied the concerns of Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan on that one.

Despite widespread political support for antigen testing, scepticism from health authorities has meant that it has, until now, been viewed as the poor relation of PCR testing.

However, in its latest announcement, the Government now seems to accept there is a role for it.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Nphet had recommended that, subject to operational feasibility, the HSE should implement a programme of antigen testing (with PCR confirmation of positive cases) for people who are identified as fully vaccinated close contacts of a confirmed case and who do not have any symptoms.

These tests will reportedly be posted out to you.

It was also announced that the Government’s Rapid Testing Expert Advisory Group has been requested to provide a view as to the potential utility of voluntary self-testing by asymptomatic individuals who plan to engage in high-risk behaviours and activities, such as going to nightclubs.

The group was requested to examine the potential role and feasibility of rapid testing as a component of the Covid pass for those for whom, on medical grounds, it is not possible to get fully vaccinated.

Antigen testing is also expected to play a part in allowing major sporting and music events to operate at 100% capacity in the coming months.

Mr Martin said he differed from public health experts on antigen testing, as he indicated it could play a bigger role in society from this week. The Taoiseach 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 Expert Advisory Group
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 "complement" to the existing testing regime.

However, aside from pilot events, the use of antigen tests has been restricted amid warnings from Nphet.

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

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