The State’s ongoing opposition to widespread use of antigen testing is “just a complete mystery at this stage,” according to Professor Luke O’Neill.
NPHET members yesterday appeared before the Oireachtas to defended their opposition to the widespread use of the at-home kits.
The Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan warned that the tests should not be used as a 'green light' to engage in activities and ignore other public health measures.
He said there was still not enough evidence to support the widespread use of antigen testing to facilitate international travel.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Trinity Professor Luke O’Neill said NPHET’s attitude is “just a complete mystery at this stage.”
“This is just dragging on isn’t it,” he said. “Look at Canada. If we want evidence of antigen testing, Canada has the evidence.
“They have had it going on for ages - millions of tests - you can buy them in a supermarket there.
“The Canadians have shown direct evidence that antigen testing has stopped over 11,000 cases from spreading, which is a huge number obviously – you have caught 11,000 cases through antigen testing.
“Their minister for health has said – this is really good – their health minister said: ‘It is no magic bullet, we know that but it is another layer to detect cases early, slow the spread and save lives.’
“Their science minister has said: ‘It helps businesses helps employees, helps us safely reopen as we progress and brings back the economy.
“Very clear statements from their own ministers and then the science has backed up the use of it so why this is still even an issue is beyond me in many ways.”
Professor O’Neill said it is “outrageous” that the tests are not in wider use in Ireland so late in the pandemic.
He said the messaging around how they should be used is “very simple.”
“If you are negative, assume nothing. Assume you have never even taken the tests and don’t change your behaviour,” he said. “If you are positive, stay home. That is the simple message.”
He said the tests would be particularly useful for reducing transmission at events like Electric Picnic.
“Imagine you go there, you take the antigen test, you say to the person: ‘Sorry you are positive please go home,’” he said.
“If it is a negative one, you say: ‘We can’t tell if you are negative or positive so don’t read into it at all.’
“That is the simple message and it can be given to people and people will take it on board – I am sure they will if they are told that.
“It is not a magic bullet. It is not the answer by any means, it is just another weapon to use in the fight against the virus.
“This just drags on and on doesn’t it.”
It was also revealed at yesterday’s Oireachtas hearing that NPHET had never discussed the Government-ordered Ferguson Report which recommended the introduction of antigen tests to complement Ireland’s use of the standard PCR test.
The committee last week heard arguments from Harvard Medical Professor Dr Michael Mina that antigen testing is more effective than PCR testing for international travel.
On The Pat Kenny Show, Dr Mina warned public health doctor’s ‘paternalistic’ attitude to antigen testing had robbed us of an “extremely powerful” tool during a global pandemic.
On Newstalk Breakfast yesterday, Oxford University Professor Tim Peto agreed that NPHET’s stance was paternalistic and old fashioned.
You can listen back to Professor O’Neill here: