Around two million DIY home Covid-19 tests are ready to be rolled out for the first time by the HSE in the coming months to people who have been at risk of catching the virus.
The extension of rapid antigen tests, which people can carry out themselves at home, were given the green light by Government yesterday.
It is expected that from the end of this week people who are fully vaccinated and have no symptoms, but are found to be close contacts of someone who is diagnosed with Covid-19, will be sent a pack of the tests by the HSE to their home.
They will be asked to carry out the DIY tests themselves over a number of days to determine whether they have caught the virus.
It is the biggest change yet in the testing of close contacts and follows a dramatic turnaround in the plans to use rapid antigen testing as a way of reducing the chain of transmission.
Until now, the predominant reliance has been on PCR tests, which are more accurate but need to be sent to a laboratory for a result.
However, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan – in his letter to Government following the meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Monday – said rapid antigen testing could be used not just on fully vaccinated people with no symptoms who are close contacts.
Previously, Dr Holohan and Nphet were cautious about rapid antigen tests, which can potentially pick up if someone is infectious but are less accurate than the gold standard PCR test.
He said the expert group, chaired by Professor Mary Horgan, should also be asked to provide a view on how people who were going to high-risk settings could use antigen testing voluntarily to check themselves before heading out for a night’s entertainment.
This could mean someone going to a nightclub or concert or other indoor event would take a rapid antigen test in the morning to see whether they have the virus.
Professor Kingston Mills of Trinity College, speaking on a personal basis, said the morning before an event was the most sensible time to do a rapid antigen test because it had a chance of catching people who might be infectious and should stay at home
“My personal view is that the key place for antigen testing is schools. There is no contact tracing in primary schools now,” he said.
He added pupils of primary and secondary schools could do a rapid antigen test at home twice a week and this would help catch those who were infectious and reduce the risk of passing it on.
Those who test positive in an antigen test would be referred for a HSE PCR test.
The Government envisages people going to a nightclub, concert or other indoor event will be “encouraged” to take a rapid antigen test.
They cost around €8 for one test and €20 for a pack of three.
It comes amid a call by Nphet for people to collectively take all the precautions they can between now and the end of the year to avoid an escalation in infection, hospitalisations and intensive care admissions.
Tanáiste Leo Varadkar yesterday drew attention to the “twin peaks” of the Delta variant, which is now rising to its second peak.
Dr Holohan said the most pessimistic modelling was for daily cases to rise to 2,500 and 3,000 a day, with up to 1,000 people with the virus in hospital by the end of November and 150-200 in intensive care.
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