Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

09.58 2 Apr 2021


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Antigen testing is a 'wonderful' tool but is not an alternative to mandatory hotel quarantine, according to Professor Aoife McLysaght.

The Trinity Professor of Genetics says we could have avoided the current lockdown if hotel quarantine was in place last summer.

Yesterday saw 26 more countries added to the list of 'high-risk' countries, meaning all people arriving here from those countries from next week must book a stay in a designated hotel.

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However, European states such as France and Germany weren't added despite a recommendation from health officials.

Meanwhile, a report from an expert group published yesterday said rapid COVID-19 antigen testing programmes should be introduced to complement the existing testing regime.

The Government says antigen testing will be piloted in student accommodation in the coming weeks, before potentially being rolled out more widely across colleges, schools and high-risk workplaces.

Rapid antigen tests are less sensitive than PCR tests but are cheaper and quicker to carry out.

Professor McLysaght told Newstalk Breakfast all the tools available are needed to deal with the virus.

'Antigen testing is wonderful, but it's not an alternative to hotel quarantine' - McLysaght

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She said: “Antigen testing is wonderful, but it is not an alternative to hotel quarantine.

“All of these things need to be used - testing doesn’t avoid the need to not bring more cases in.

“I agree that lockdown is a blunt instrument… I don’t want us to be in lockdown. If we had implemented mandatory hotel quarantine last summer we wouldn’t be in this lockdown - we would have avoided the second and third lockdowns."

She noted that COVID-19 testing will not pick up the virus if someone is infected while they’re travelling to Ireland.

She accused the Government of not taking on the 'challenge' of widely implementing quarantine, saying they've instead left the public dealing with 'all the difficulty' of lockdown and a prolonged pandemic.

Quarantine 'totally unnecessary'

CityJet chair Pat Byrne, meanwhile, argued that adequate testing is a 'proper barrier' and will protect people in Ireland from the risk of cases being imported.

He believes 'repeated' rapid antigen testing for people arriving here is the way forward.

He said: “I think lockdown is a very blunt instrument and very repressive.

"I think quarantine is an extreme measure within that… which I think is totally unnecessary.”

He said measures need to have 'a sense of balance', but the current approach is 'destroying' Ireland's connectivity with other countries.

He claimed the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG) - a group of scientists who support a zero COVID approach - have been ‘preaching fear and anxiety'.

Professor McLysaght - who is herself a member of ISAG - refuted that claim, saying they've always been driven by science.

She said: “We predicted the second wave and third wave, and said not to open for Christmas. That’s what people didn’t like to hear, but was unfortunately what people needed to hear.

“To say we’ve been trying to make people afraid is a nonsense - we’ve been trying to make people see what’s happening and understanding the consequences of actions."

Main image: File photo of a woman doing an antigen test. Picture by: Utrecht Robin/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images

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