Taoiseach wants culture of self-testing as antigen tests to be rolled out widely

Taoiseach wants culture of self-testing as antigen tests to be rolled out widely

People carry out asymptomatic testing (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The Government is considering rolling out rapid antigen test kits more generally, the Taoiseach has said.

Micheál Martin said he wants to develop a culture of self-testing.

The Government is to launch a communications campaign around the proper use of antigen tests and when they should be used.

It comes as close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case who are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic will receive a box of antigen tests.

An Innova SARS-CoV-2 antigen test kit with a negative reading (Leon Neal/PA)

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly confirmed that the new initiative has begun and that close contacts who are vaccinated and do not have symptoms of the virus will now be able to test themselves at home using the free tests.

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Martin said: “We are now dealing close contacts as of today.

“We should develop a culture of self-testing and that would be regular and that would be something that people would do in the right circumstances, with the right advice.

“There will be a communications campaign around the proper use of antigen tests because the expert review group did ascertain there is a need for proper advice for the utilisation of such tests as a supplement to PCR.”

He said that antigen testing will be a “further weapon” in the Government’s armoury to deal with the current wave of Covid.

Micheál Martin said he wants to develop a culture of self-testing. Picture: Julien Behal Photography
Micheál Martin said he wants to develop a culture of self-testing. Picture: Julien Behal Photography

The Government announced earlier this month that antigen testing would have a wider role in the country’s response to the pandemic.

The free antigen tests are available to anyone aged 13 and over.

If an antigen test comes back positive, people will be required to self-isolate and get a PCR Covid-19 test.

The HSE says that people will receive a box of five antigen tests and will be asked to do three tests over the course of several days.

“It is a really important day today for rapid testing,” Mr Donnelly said.

He said households can expect to receive antigen tests from Friday onwards.

Mr Donnelly urged anyone with symptoms to still get a PCR test.

The Health Minister admitted that he would have liked the rollout of rapid testing to have been quicker.

“It has been slower than I would have liked,” he told Newstalk.

Concerns have been expressed in recent days about the major increase in Covid-19 cases.

Mr Martin also said that Government has not received any advice about cutting down on children’s activities outside school over worrying case numbers.

At a briefing by the National Public Health Emergency Team on Wednesday afternoon, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said that parents should consider if their children need to be part of every activity.

“We have received no advice in terms of children not playing outdoor sports or being engaged in outdoor activity,” Mr Martin added.

I think one of the dangers of the next phase is, because of the nature of our weather, that you’re going to get far more indoor activity, which can be a factor in the spread.

“I think the more outdoor activities that we can continue with, the better.

“I would be concerned also about mental well being of children. That’s very important.

“I met with Pieta House and different organisations, they’ve always articulated to us the concern around anxiety levels.”

On Wednesday, a further 1,631 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Ireland.

There were 503 people in hospital with the disease, with 101 in intensive care.

Dr Glynn said there had been a 27% increase in the number of patients in hospital with the virus in the last two weeks.

There were 67 newly notified deaths in the past week.

Mr Donnelly said that Ireland’s successful vaccine programme was the only reason that nightclubs and late-night venues had been allowed to reopen.

The Health Minister expressed support for the idea of extending the vaccine booster programme to healthcare workers, but said the Department of Health had to wait for advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC).

“I would do it tomorrow.

“I think there’s a very strong case for boosters for healthcare workers,” he said.

“The advice from NIAC has always worked population by population, cohort by cohort.”

Mr Donnelly said that he and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan were “engaging very closely with NIAC on this”.

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