Antigen test kits to be sent to vaccinated, asymptomatic close contacts

Rapid testing to play an enhanced role in the Government’s new Covid-19 strategy

A Covid-19 rapid antigen test. Photograph: Joel Carrett/EPA

Rapid antigen testing is to play an enhanced role in the Government’s new Covid-19 strategy through being used to test close contacts and groups attending large events.

The testing of fully vaccinated, asymptomatic people who are close contacts, which ceased for those without symptoms in September, is to be resumed, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said on Tuesday.

However, instead of being tested with the standard PCR test as before, close contacts will be sent an antigen test. Any positive result will be confirmed with a follow-up PCR test.

PCR tests are more accurate but take about a day to process, compared to under 30 minutes for the result from an antigen test.


The change is being made on foot of a recommendation from the National Public Health Emergency Team, which up to now has resisted the wider use of antigen testing.

Any close contact who is not vaccinated, or who has symptoms, will have to take a PCR test, as at present.

In his latest letter to Government, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said "subject to operational feasibility, the HSE should implement a programme of Covid-19 antigen testing (with PCR confirmation of positive cases) for people who are identified as fully vaccinated close contacts of a confirmed case and who do not have any symptoms.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the Government was now instigating rapid testing for asymptomatic, vaccinated close contacts. "If you are asymptomatic and vaccinated, we will send you out a pack of rapid tests," he said.

Defending the Government’s record on the issue, Mr Donnelly said a lot of work had been done “in the background” and “we are ready” now that the situation has deteriorated.

Where a vaccinated close contact is a child aged 12 or over, the antigen kit will be sent to their parent. Mr Donnelly said the situation for younger children, who are not vaccinated, is under review.

Additional information is to be made available online for people on the use of antigen testing, as well as a list of approved tests.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told a news conference tests would be sent to fully vaccinated people who are close contacts of confirmed cases.

In addition: “We will work with the sectors to develop a role for antigen tests to further improve the safety of certain events and activities”.

The Government would also work with the expert group on antigen testing “in terms of the wider use of such tests amongst the general population”.

The rapid testing expert advisory group, chaired by Prof Mary Horgan, has also been asked to see if rapid testing could be used as a component of the Covid-19 pass for those who are unable to get fully vaccinated on medical grounds.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.