Rapid 15-minute Covid tests and new rules on ventilating indoor spaces are the key elements of a new government plan to allow the country to reopen in the coming weeks, a confidential Cabinet memo reveals.
The document, prepared for Ministers, states that in addition to the vaccine rollout, the use of antigen tests and proper ventilation are part of efforts to “assist the sustainable reopening of the country”.
The use of antigen tests has encountered resistance as they are less sensitive than PCR tests used by the HSE, which are regarded as being of a higher standard.
Sources told The Irish Examiner the antigen tests are seen as a “crucial tool” in allowing larger businesses to test their staff, but are not seen as a replacement for the PCR test.
The HSE has been looking at new, easier, and faster ways to test people for Covid-19, and trials on rapid 15-minute antigen testing have proven successful.
Sources familiar with the plan said the work is being carried out to allow the review of restrictions on April 5th to be “as ambitious as possible”.
“All of this is part of the desire to allow the country reopen on a sustainable basis,” one source told The Examiner. “More tracking, more and quicker testing, and clarity on how indoor spaces are to be ventilated are all steps in the right direction.”
Regarding the ventilation, government sources said this is not primarily focused on allowing indoor dining to return, but it “is in the mix”.
The development comes as schools prepare for a staggered reopening, with tens of thousands of junior and senior infants, first and second class, and Leaving Certificate students due to return this morning for the first time in months.
Six Covid-related deaths and 612 cases were confirmed on Sunday and, despite slow progress in driving down infection numbers, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said there were “more concrete reasons for hope and optimism now than at any time over the last 12 months”.