Thursday, 25 February 2021
Topical Issue Debate
I welcome the fact that Professor Mark Ferguson has been asked to keep this under review. However, we need to have a bit of ambition. The two tests I mentioned from Roche and Abbott meet the minimum standards set by the WHO. If we are to give people hope of the prospect of work post Covid or even as the vaccination programme is carried out, this is pivotal. In addition, if people have medical or dental appointments, an antigen test half an hour before they arrive could provide a lot of reassurance, not just for the patient but also for the staff at medical and dental clinics. I welcome the fact that Professor Ferguson is keeping it under review but believe that we need to do more, especially in the context of the vaccine roll-out. It is a fluid situation and there might be more speed bumps down the line with the roll-out of the programme. This would give people light at the end of the tunnel and some hope regarding the prospect of returning to some semblance of normality. I emphasise again that I am not talking about replacing PCR testing but complementing it. The more people we test, whether it is through PCR or rapid antigen testing, the better.
I draw the Minister of State's attention to the example of Liverpool, where daily rapid antigen testing was carried out in the city recently.
More than 200,000 people in the city were tested out of a population of 500,000. Of those 200,000 rapid tests conducted, some 4,000 people were found to be asymptomatic and carrying the virus unbeknownst to themselves. The rapid tests rolled out in Liverpool daily enabled those people to be identified and to isolate themselves.
I reiterate that the intention is not to use antigen testing to replace the system we have. As the Minister of State said, PCR testing is the gold standard. I believe there is a place for rapid testing as well, however. The HSE could publish guidelines for this type of rapid testing and then allow companies to provide this type of test to people, because there is a demand for them. This type of testing is already being undertaken all around us, such as in major pharmaceutical companies and other multinationals, for example, and it is about time that we moved with this trend.