Experts have questioned why Ireland remains an “outlier” when it comes to the use of antigen testing for Covid-19.
Professor of immunovirology at University College Cork, Liam Fanning, said that shipping antigen tests to every household each week throughout the winter could help to stop Covid transmission, while infectious diseases expert Professor Paddy Mallon also called for their widespread use.
However, also speaking on Monday morning, chief scientific advisor to the Government Professor Mark Ferguson said that while antigen tests are useful and provide an extra layer of protection, they are “not a solution”.
Although widely used in many European countries, antigen testing has been discouraged in Ireland as public health officials said the tests should be used in strictly controlled settings and warned individuals might receive “inappropriate reassurance” from a negative result.
There’s a paralysis going on there, I don’t understand it. Nobody can understand
Prof Fanning on Monday called for the rollout of broader antigen testing in the State, amid concern over rising Covid indicators despite Ireland’s high vaccination rate.
“There’s a paralysis going on there, I don’t understand it. Nobody can understand,” he told Newstalk radio.
“Here we’ve spent 40-odd billion plus as a result of this Covid pandemic. A few tens of millions on providing free antigen tests in every house in this country – ship 10 of them to every family every week for the rest of the winter. It will prevent onward transmission of this infection.”
'Not a solution'
However, chief scientific advisor Prof Ferguson said that antigen testing was not as sensitive as PCR testing and while it had a role in combating Covid-19, it was not a solution.
The professor told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that indoor ventilation was vital in helping to prevent spread of the virus, especially at venues such as nightclubs.
He said employers and individuals could consider the use of antigen tests as one measure to limit the spread of infection. “It is not a solution in itself, but with mask wearing, social distancing and good ventilation it can help prevent the spread of Covid-19,” he said.
Science Foundation Ireland, of which Prof Ferguson is director general, has provided all of its employees with 25 antigen tests to carry out two tests each week between now and Christmas.
The tests were used along with mask wearing in the office, social distancing and “good respiratory etiquette and good ventilation”, he said.
Prof Ferguson said antigen tests were not as sensitive as PCR tests and infection could be missed, which was why a second test was important within a few days and provided an extra layer of protection. He also warned that people needed training on how to do the tests.
Ongoing pilot tests in schools and universities would provide results which could guide the Government on what to do next, he said.
Meanwhile, infectious diseases expert Professor Paddy Mallon questioned why Ireland remains an “outlier” when it comes to antigen testing.
Testing and treatment are two key elements in the fight against a virus, he said. Antigen testing could play a vital role for people to test themselves and take themselves out of circulation.
Even vaccinated people could still contract and transmit the virus so antigen testing could help, the professor told Newstalk Breakfast. Widespread antigen testing would give added protection.
Prof Mallon said that some restrictive measures would be needed to contain the virus and allow a return to “normal” life.
No one measure is going to fix everything
Society was going to have to be innovative, he said. He was supportive of everything that could enable people to live a more normal life.
The solution was not “all or nothing” he said with regard to restrictions. There should be different measures for different situations. “No one measure is going to fix everything.”
There needed to be a broader dialogue about the measures and the need to continue them in daily life to contain the virus, he said.
Prof Mallon said there was a need to expand a system of widespread antigen testing which would give added protection.
It comes as the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will meet later today to discuss its advice to the Government on the easing of further Covid restrictions.
In addition to Nphet's recommendations, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) is also expected to issue advice regarding booster vaccinations ahead of Tuesday's Cabinet meeting.
—Additional reporting by Vivienne Clarke.