18 Jun 2021, 11.13

Following their meeting on Wednesday 16 June with Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan, the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications has written to Transport Minister Eamon Ryan TD strongly recommending that without delay he write to Dr Holohan and the National Public Health Emergency Team requesting the urgent commencement of a rapid antigen testing pilot programme for aviation.

The Committee has also communicated this recommendation to Dr Tony Holohan, CMO & Chair of NPHET, An Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD, An Tánaiste Leo Varadkar TD, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD, Minister for State at the Department of Transport Hildegarde Naughton TD, Paul Reid, CEO of the HSE and Martin Fraser, Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach. This follows the Committee’s previous recommendation on 6 May to Minister Ryan for such a pilot scheme to be established.

Committee Cathaoirleach Deputy Kieran O’Donnell said it came to light during the meeting that it would appear as if the Government commissioned Report of the Covid-19 Rapid Testing Group – more commonly known as the Ferguson Report – has yet to be fully discussed and considered by NPHET. The Committee is now calling for this to immediately take place.

Also, in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting to continue the Committee’s discussions on rapid antigen testing in relation to aviation and travel were representatives of NPHET, Dr Ronan Glynn, Professor Philip Nolan, Dr Cillian de Gascun, Professor Martin Cormican and Dr Mary Keogan.

Speaking after the meeting, Deputy O’Donnell said: “At Wednesday’s committee meeting, Dr Holohan was fully supportive of our specific proposal to immediately roll-out a rapid antigen testing pilot programme for aviation. However, he informed us that to-date he has received no such a request from any Government department or Minister.

“Our Committee has strongly recommended to the Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan that the Government without delay write to and engage directly with Dr Holohan, NPHET and the aviation sector to immediately roll-out a rapid antigen pilot testing programme. It is vital that the logistics and ICT systems for mass serial rapid antigen testing are in place and in line with the introduction of the EU Digital COVID Certificate (Digital Green Certificate) here.

“Furthermore, in planning this pilot programme, the Committee recommend that the Government’s chief scientific advisor and member of NPHET, Professor Mark Ferguson, and his colleagues on the Covid-19 Rapid Testing Group are consulted. In their report published nearly three months ago, the Covid-19 Rapid Testing Group recommended that pilot programmes of serial rapid antigen testing commence at scale and at pace across various sectors, including the aviation sector (on page 47) of their report. Clarity on why there been such a delay in a pilot programme for aviation being rolled-out is needed.

“The Committee has requested Minister Ryan to confirm that the matter is being expedited, providing a specific commencement date for the rapid antigen testing pilot programme for aviation. We look forwarding to engaging with the Minister and NPHET on the results of this pilot programme.

“No further time can be lost here as aviation is crucial to Ireland’s connectivity and competitiveness, supporting over 140,000 jobs, almost 40,000 of which are direct employment by the sector.

“The Joint Committee on Transport and Communications remains of the view that all available Covid-19 testing options must be fully explored as part of the Covid-19 public health toolkit, including rapid antigen testing.”

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