Minister backs antigen testing at food-production plants

Positive Covid-19 tests among plant workers more than triple in past month

There have been increasing calls for public health authorities to approve the use of  antigen testing. Photograph: iStock

There have been increasing calls for public health authorities to approve the use of antigen testing. Photograph: iStock

 

The Department of Agriculture is facilitating the rollout of rapid antigen detection tests (RADT) as a risk-management tool for food businesses following positive initial analysis of a study on its use.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said 4,900 people were tested using both the standard PCR test and an antigen test in 18 food production facilities in a study that started at the beginning of January.

He said his department had been helping the HSE to evaluate the use of antigen testing for Covid-19 as a risk-management tool in food businesses, through the use of the test at those sites.

“While a detailed analysis of this data is currently being completed by HSE, the study would appear to support the use of RADT for this purpose,” Mr McConalogue said.

“Consequently, my department is currently making arrangements to facilitate the rollout of this testing so that any food-business operators who wish to use RADT for risk-management purposes can do so as soon as possible.”

There have been increasing calls for public health authorities to approve the use of such antigen testing and the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has said that it is “open to the incorporation of additional testing strategies or modalities once their role is supported by evidence”.

Mr McConalogue also released figures showing that serial Covid-19 testing in food-production facilities including meat plants showed a positivity rate of 2.06 per cent in the latest four-week cycle, compared to a 0.6 per cent average in the previous four cycles combined.

A total of 444 people tested positive between January 11th and February 5th when 21,500 swabs were taken at 88 food-production facilities. This compares to 526 cases of the virus from 86,541 tests over 16 weeks up to the end of December, according to figures released by Mr McConalogue.

Serial testing has been taking place over four-week cycles of weekly testing and began on September 14th. The latest cycle started on Monday, February 8th.

In reply to a parliamentary question from Sinn Féin TD Martin Browne, the Minister also said that up to January 29th department officials had completed 663 inspections, including unannounced ones at food-production sites for the Health and Safety Authority, separate to the 49 facilities where department inspectors are permanently based.