Jack Quann
Jack Quann

20.28 16 Jun 2021


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The opposition to rapid antigen-testing for Irish air travel is not a public health matter, but a failed Government policy.

That is according to the pilots trade union IALPA, which has criticised the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET)'s oposition to the test.

Members of NPHET went before the Oireachtas Transport Committee earlier on Wednesday to answer questions about its perceived resistance to the tests for use in international travel.

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CMO Dr Tony Holohan earlier warned against the use of rapid-antigen testing as a 'green light' for activities during the pandemic.

He said there was not enough evidence yet to support the widespread use of antigen testing to facilitate international travel.

He also said NPHET would be fully open to the use of the rapid tests in any setting, as long as there is 'validated' research and studies on the benefits of their use.

However, he argued that they cannot simply "start rolling out tests on the basis of people think it's a good idea, without good quality scientific evidence."

Captain Alan Brereton is the vice-president of IALPA, and told The Hard Shoulder he believes this policy is not based on public health.

He said aviation "is the most regulated environment - you can't do anything with [sic] an airport without somebody seeing you.

"What we're saying here is there should be doctors in the airports that conduct these tests because... it's not about the airport in Ireland, it's about the inbound airports.

"So it's the airports in Lanzarote, Faro and Malaga - these airports are set up for this, but for some reason NPHET - in an outlier position compared to the rest of Europe - has said 'No'.

"We've suffered enough - we don't mind suffering in the face of public health, but this is not public health.

"This is a failed Government policy".

COVID cert 'deliberately delayed'

Captain Brereton said antigen testing will play a 'key role' in aviation.

"The European-wide rollout of the Digital COVID Certificate on the 19th of July in Ireland.

"It became law in Europe on Monday, so this Government has deliberately delayed that - but a central tenant is rapid antigen testing.

"Dr Holohan today was quick to claim that people can travel after the 19th of July, but that's only if they're vaccinated.

"I could be vaccinated but my kids won't be - so if you've children that are over six or less than 18, they'll have to be tested.

"The worry and the risk and the cost that that brings in, we believe will be a natural deterrent to travel.

"So what we're trying to do is get this Government to embrace the scientific position that 17 European countries, plus the US, plus the UK have done - in bringing supervised, rapid antigen testing on the day of or the day before travel.

"We believe that is the best way to screen for infections, which is what containment of this virus is all about."

Ferguson Report

And Captain Brereton said the comparison is not fair.

"The comparison that continues to be made between PCR and antigen is invalid, we believe, because effectively these two tests ask two different questions.

"So it's reasonable that the answers are different".

NPHET also earlier confirmed that it never discussed the Ferguson Report, which examined the use of antigen testing.

The report, published in April, was commissioned by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and recommended the roll-out of antigen testing.

On this, Captain Brereton said: "One of the key tenants of NPHET's argument today was that there's not enough studies.

"Yet they also went on to proclaim that they didn't read the study from Irish chief scientific advisor Mark Ferguson's own report.

"In that report, it says that antigen is the tool for infectious control or infection containment."

Antigen testing opposition 'not public health, but a failed Government policy' - IALPA

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Main image: Composite image shows a rapid-result Covid-19 antigen test in Bordeaux, France and a Boeing 737 airplane at Vienna Airport in Austria. Picture by: Moritz Thibaud/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images/Markus Mainka/DPA/PA Images

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Air Travel Antigen Testing Captain Alan Brereton Digital COVID Certificate Dr Tony Holohan Ferguson Report IALPA NPHET Oireachtas Committee Rapid Antigen Testing The Hard Shoulder

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