Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

14.52 9 Jun 2021


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The Chief Medical Officer is facing calls to explain NPHET's resistance to the use of antigen testing for international travel.

The issue is being discussed at an Oireachtas Transport Committee meeting this afternoon.

Public health officials have said on a number of occasions that they believe antigen testing has a place in limited circumstances, such as when an outbreak happens.

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However, they’ve also stated on a number of occasions that antigen testing among the general population could encourage poor behaviour.

Dr Holohan has also criticised supermarkets for selling the rapid tests.

Private testing providers are now asking to see the evidence to support the NPHET stance.

Independent Deputy Michael Lowry has asked that Dr Tony Holohan come before the committee to answer questions.

He said: “The resistance to antigen testing from the CMO and NPHET is very baffling and defies all logic.

“The stubborn obstruction to its use must be questioned: they must be given the opportunity in public to explain their rationale, and to justify their decision to disagree with scientific evidence.”

Harvard Professor Michael Mina - who has publicly criticised NPHET and the Government's stance on antigen testing - also addressed the committee.

He said a rapid test an hour before a flight can be much more effective than a more sensitive PCR test a day or two beforehand.

He explained: “If your real concern is transmission on the flight… you want to be able to test as close to the event as possible.

“These tests are very accurate if you are concerned about limiting transmission.

“If you’re trying to diagnose somebody who has symptoms because of COVID… use a PCR test. But if you’re trying to use a test as a way to limit tests, then a rapid test… the speed is much more important… especially for a plane, event etc…”

Professor Mina also said the latest tests are showing a very small amount of false positives - and another quick test can quickly confirm whether the first was accurate.

NPHET 'immovable'

On The Hard Shoulder, Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell says he can't understand NPHET's resistance to antigen testing.

He's warned that Ireland's at risk of becoming "the most disconnected country in Europe" if the approach to testing doesn't change.

He said: "We’ve been talking about antigen testing at the committee for a number of weeks.

“Willie Walsh has delivered a frightening forecast for the future of aviation in Ireland if we don’t get our aircraft back into the air… even at that, it’s likely we won’t see a return to anything like we had pre-COVID for the next five to ten years.

"There’s a grave risk we’re going to lose many of the airlines that fly into Ireland, and be left with possibly two - Ryanair and Aer Lingus - along with one or two long-haul from the east.”

Senator Craughwell said rapid testing has been taken up by many countries - acknowledging that while it's not perfect, it can be another important tool to use in the pandemic response.

He said: “Everybody in politics that I speak to is in favour of it… everybody in the industry is in favour of it… but there’s one small group that’s against it, and that’s NPHET.

“They’re immovable on it: it’s very, very difficult to understand why they have taken such a dogmatic approach.”

Additional reporting by Kacey O'Riordan
Main image: File photos of Dr Tony Holohan (Photograph: Leah Farrell / RollingNews) and Deputy Michael Lowry (Photograph: RollingNews.ie)

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