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Covid-19 Tests

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 14 December 2021

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Questions (637)

Patricia Ryan

Question:

637. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Health if he will provide a free antigen test to every home in the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61677/21]

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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 widely in use in Ireland, supported by the health service, in appropriate settings and contexts:

- In the health sector, the HSE has deployed rapid antigen tests for use for specific indications in the acute hospital setting, and as part of the response to outbreaks in community settings, supported by appropriate clinical governance and operational arrangements.

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.

- Antigen tests are now provided 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.

Government’s objective has been to ensure the widespread availability of antigen tests, that are CE marked for self-testing, at an affordable price level. Following engagement by relevant Government Departments with leading retailers and wholesalers, it is clear that due to the increased level of competition in the market, the retail price of antigen tests for consumers has been dropping, with some products now available for €3 or less. Supply chains remain robust and appear capable of meeting any potential increase in demand that may arise. Government is already supporting the price reduction seen in the market through implementation of a zero VAT rate for all Covid-19 test kits, and have confirmed this will continue into 2022.

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.

There is ongoing consideration of the use of antigen testing in other settings and in other scenarios. 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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