Coronavirus: 431 cases confirmed in the State

Holohan to discuss objections to antigen testing before Oireachtas committee

Dr Holohan accepted the invitation from the committee following expert testimony last week that antigen testing is effective in picking up people who are a risk to others. File photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Dr Holohan accepted the invitation from the committee following expert testimony last week that antigen testing is effective in picking up people who are a risk to others. File photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

 

A further 431 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the State, according to the Department of Health.

There are 58 people in hospital and 22 people in ICU in relation to the disease.

Meanwhile, the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has agreed to appear in front of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications to answers questions about his objection to antigen testing for Covid-19.

Dr Holohan has accepted the invitation from the committee following expert testimony last week that antigen testing is effective in picking up people who are a risk to others.

Dr Holohan’s views that antigen tests are only 50 per cent accurate were dismissed at the last hearing of the committee by Michael Mina, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard University.

When asked if Dr Holohan’s views were correct, Professor Mina responded: “Not at all. It is just inaccurate if the goal is to block transmission from transmissible people. If a government uses these tests and advised a programme around them, you could use the tests.

“These tests can keep the spread to an absolute minimum. These tests are very accurate if you are concerned about limiting transmission. If you are trying to diagnose somebody who has symptoms because of Covid-19, use a PCR test.

“A rapid test, whether it is an antigen test or a molecular test, are going to be available in the future. Speed is much more important if you are to limit spread.”

He explained that a PCR test can pick up Covid-19 up to 30 days after the person first becomes infected, but a person is usually only infectious to others for 10 days and antigen tests are effective at picking up such cases.

Chairman of the Oireachtas committee, Kieran O’Donnell, said the shock closure of Stobart Air showed urgency was needed to approve antigen testing so people can fly again.

Stobart Air, which operates many Aer Lingus regional flights, announced on Saturday that it has ceased trading and is in the process of appointing a liquidator.

“This discussion is urgently needed when we see the serious difficulties occurring in the airline industry here,” Mr O’Donnell said.

Dr Holohan will appear at the committee next Wednesday at 12.30pm to discuss the science on rapid antigen testing in relation to aviation and travel.

Public health toolkit

“Rapid antigen testing must now form part of the public health toolkit for Covid-19 alongside PCR testing. PCR and rapid antigen testing are not mutually exclusive, in fact they can be complimentary,” Mr O’Donnell added.

“Furthermore, many other countries have adopted rapid antigen testing and indeed it is allowed under the EU digital green certificate, which Ireland is introducing. We cannot have our airline industry at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to accepting the use of rapid antigen testing.

“Along with PCR testing, rapid antigen testing has a positive role in the fight against the coronavirus, by detecting, reducing the risk of contracting and spreading of the virus. Importantly, anything that helps to reduce the risks from the coronavirus must be embraced.”

Dr Holohan’s claim that antigen testing is only 50 per cent effective is also at odds with the views of Prof Mark Ferguson who has advocated for rapid antigen testing as an alternative to mandatory hotel quarantine. Prof Ferguson was the chairman of the Covid-19 Rapid Testing Group.

Mr O’Donnell continued: “Currently, we are at a crossroads on testing methods for coronavirus and if we continue on the solely-PCR-testing road, rather than the road that allows both PCR and rapid antigen testing, we risk both inhibiting the economy recovery and, moreover, our capacity to reduce the risks from the virus itself.

“We look forward to this engagement with Dr Holohan next Wednesday as we cannot afford to lose any further time here.”

Innova tests

In the United States, the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has given a scathing review to rapid Covid tests on which the UK government has based its mass-testing programme. It said the test by California-based manufacturer Innova was not accurate enough.

In the UK, these lateral-flow Innova tests form the cornerstone of Operation Moonshot, the mass-testing scheme championed by the UK prime minister’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings.

The idea was that the ability to deliver results within 30 minutes – without the need for processing in a laboratory – provided a cheap, pragmatic and efficient way to identify people who had caught the virus but not fallen ill. But critics have raised concerns about accuracy.

The FDA said it has “ significant concerns that the performance of the test has not been adequately established, presenting a risk to health. In addition, labelling distributed with certain configurations of the test includes performance claims that did not accurately reflect the performance estimates observed during the clinical studies of the tests.

“ Finally, the test has not been authorised, cleared or approved by the FDA for commercial distribution or use in the United States, as required by law.”

Innova is not in the list of antigen tests approved for use in the European Union.

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health has recorded a further 107 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the last 24 hours, while no more Covid-related deaths were reported.

More than 1.8 million vaccines have been administered in the North so far, the department said.