I propose to take Questions Nos. 470, 471, 484, 490 and 491 together.
The intention of Government is to strengthen the prevention and intervention measures around COVID-19 in response to the changing context. My Department recognises the potential role of rapid antigen testing as one part of a package of surveillance and vigilance measures including self-monitoring and other public health measures.
Following public health advice to the sector from the Expert Advisory Group on Rapid Testing, advice which is published and available on the Department’s website, a once-off fund of €9m to provide rapid antigen testing kits to students in further and higher education has been announced by my Department.
The purpose of the fund is to encourage the use of antigen testing amongst students and will involve:
- Providing funding to institutions via the funding agencies to make a small number of antigen tests available free to students
- Respecting the autonomy and flexibility of institutions in deciding at institutional level how best to provide these tests to students as soon as practicable
- Developing a communications campaign for students to increase the awareness of rapid antigen testing and their appropriate use.
The fund will be made available to further and higher education institutions through SOLAS and HEA, including to the private institutions represented by HECA, with approximately 20,000 students, to ensure that we promote the use of antigen testing amongst young people.
In terms of costs, at this time it is not possible to provide information in relation to allocations that will be paid to individual institutions or bodies at this time as the process to determine and allocate funds is ongoing. It is the intention that the funding allocation for HECA colleges will be aligned with the allocations to publicly funded providers and from within the ring-fenced allocation for antigen testing as part of the Department’s 2021 Covid allocation.
In addition to this once-off specific fund, the UniCov study continues in a number of universities.