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Covid-19 Tests

Dáil Éireann Debate, Friday - 3 December 2021

Friday, 3 December 2021

Questions (161)

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill

Question:

161. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Health the status of the work taking place to implement antigen testing as another tool in the country’s defence against Covid-19; the educational material that will be made available for those who use antigen tests to ensure proper use; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59206/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

Testing and contact tracing continues to be a key component of the Irish Government’s response to the pandemic. Currently, PCR testing is the gold standard for diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection and it is essential that people who have symptoms of Covid-19 continue to be advised to self-isolate and seek a PCR test from the HSE.

Rapid testing also has a role to play as another valuable tool in Ireland’s battle against COVID-19, and I have been very clear in supporting its wider use.

Antigen tests are already in use in Ireland, in appropriate settings and contexts:

- Asymptomatic fully vaccinated close contacts of a person that tested positive for COVID-19 can now test themselves at home using free antigen tests sent to them by the HSE

- In the health sector, the HSE has deployed antigen tests for use in acute hospital settings, and as part of the response to outbreaks in the community.

- In the agriculture sector, the HSE has supported the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine in implementing an antigen testing programme in food processing facilities, supplementing the existing PCR serial testing programme.

- In the education sector, rapid testing pilot schemes have been underway in a number of universities, and also in other education and childcare settings, where the effectiveness and safety of self-swabbing and self-testing antigen test models are being evaluated.

- The HSE is also operating a pilot antigen detection testing programme for staff in a number of Residential Care Facilities for Older Persons across the country.

From Monday 29th November, as an additional measure to support parents and schools, free antigen tests are now offered for primary school children who are identified as close contacts as part of a pod in which there was a confirmed case of COVID-19. Where two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 occur in a class within a seven-day period, outside of a single pod, antigen testing will be offered to the full class. All children in the pod can continue to attend school as long as they remain asymptomatic and they do not have a positive COVID-19 antigen or PCR test result.

As an additional precautionary measure for staff working in the classroom, where there is a

confirmed case in a pod, an SNA or teacher working closely with children in the pod may

also avail of the antigen tests and request them in the same way as parents/guardians are

instructed. Where there is an additional case in a second pod within seven days, then the class teacher and other staff members working in the classroom may also avail of the antigen tests .This is an entirely voluntary measure and staff should continue to attend the workplace unless they develop symptoms or receive a detected result on the antigen test.

A comprehensive, cross-Government communications campaign on the appropriate use of antigen tests, to ensure there is clear message to the general public on when and how they should be used has also been launched and guidance material has been published on the HSE website and on gov.ie. The HPSC has also published rapid antigen testing programme guidance. 

The role of testing and contact tracing, as part of the wider public health response, has been under ongoing review throughout the pandemic and will continue to be reviewed and amended in line with the epidemiological profile of the disease, its impact on healthcare utilisation and outcomes, the vaccination status of the population and ECDC guidance.

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