DEPUTY Michael McNamara has called for an increase use of antigen testing in hospitals, schools and homes to facilitate a quicker safe exit from stringent Covid-19 restrictions next month.
Speaking in the Dáil, Deputy McNamara recalled the European Commission advocated greater use of antigen testing last November and this is being rolled out right across Europe.
The Biden Administration has now introduced far greater use of antigen testing in America, including in homes.
He claimed the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has finally moved, reluctantly, to a very “circumscribed” role for antigen testing in the context of outbreaks.
“Is there a conflict of interest between being chair of NPHET and being director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, which has very large contracts with the State for PCR testing?
“I am not saying there is any subjective bias on the part of that member of NPHET, but there is a clear perception there is objective bias, or a clear possibility of it.
“What is the reluctance to antigen testing? Whatever opening up will take place in March will have to be done safely, and there is a role for antigen testing in our hospitals, our schools and especially our homes.”
An Taoiseach Micheál Martin replied NPHET believes the PCR test is gold standard and feels a lot can be missed through antigen testing.
“I do not accept the deputy’s point that there is a conflict of interest between being chair of NPHET and being director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, NVRL. To be fair to all concerned, everybody has come together in different contexts to help the country defeat and suppress Covid-19. We should accept people’s bona fides in that regard.”
Deputy McNamara asked if Biden and Angela Merkel are experts.
Deputy Martin replied “no, they have their experts”.
“We cannot just pick and choose à la carte. There are structures within the country and clinical and public health advice.”
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar broadly agreed there is a greater role for antigen testing in Ireland, subject to public health advice.
“NPHET have not been particularly confident about the accuracy of antigen testing and it believes that in many instances it does not meet what the manufacturers say. NPHET has updated its guidance so antigen testing is now going to be used more extensively for outbreaks.
“Using the antigen test to screen people for travel or to attend events is a whole other issue. The evidence is that antigen testing is effective in symptomatic cases but not so much for screening, but that may change.”