Antigen tests to be sold at subsidised prices amid ‘concerning’ rise in Covid cases

Government coming under pressure to pause plans for full return to workplaces

A used rapid antigen test. Photograph: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty

A used rapid antigen test. Photograph: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty

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A new plan to tackle rising Covid-19 case numbers will see antigen testing kits offered at a subsidised rate through more retail outlets.

Government is coming under pressure to pause its plans for a full return to the workplace and to advise people to work from home where possible.

Fresh advice to Government from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has recommended that people engaging in what are described as high-risk activities, such as going to nightclubs and bars, should take at least two antigen tests a week.

Government is examining a new plan to make antigen tests more widely available at a subsidised rate from shops, while a new campaign will inform people how to use the tests correctly.

An expert advisory group on rapid testing recommended that individuals who attend restaurants, cinemas, bars and nightclubs, or who participate in contact sports, multi-household visits or car-sharing, should use the tests regularly.

Another 5,483 cases of Covid-19 were reported on Friday, with 549 people in hospital with the virus and 96 in intensive care.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, in his letter to the Government, asked that “the Government consider reinstating previous advice to work from home where possible”.

Sinn Féin has also called on Government to “heed the guidance” of Nphet and “reinstate advice allowing workers the option to work remotely”.

In its letter, Nphet warned that recent social activity data showed workplaces accounted for the greatest share of close contacts after households, with a “step change increase in early September”.

“It also shows a small but rising share of those attending work reporting that they could work from home but prefer their workplace or feel pressured to attend, along with downward trends in mitigation behaviours in workplaces continuing in October.”

Impact of boosters

Nphet warned the incidence of the disease across the country was “very high and has been increasing at a concerning rate”.

Incidence has increased significantly across all adult age groups up to 75 years of age and has risen “very rapidly” in those aged 19-24, while incidence in children aged five to 12 is similar to adult age groups, it said.

The impact of recent booster vaccinations on the over-80s is becoming “evident”, with this the only age group in which incidence is declining.

Further restrictions across society cannot be ruled out, Nphet warned.

The team will meet again in two weeks to consider issues “including the upcoming festive period”.

Speaking about the advice, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said there was “a very strong piece on mask-wearing, particularly in outdoor sporting events, that masks would now be worn in large crowds and in congregated settings”.

He also said the Government would consider the “very effective” safety measures brought in by employers as it considered the advice on working from home.

Nphet also recommended the use of Covid certs be expanded to high-risk settings where they are currently not in use, although where was not specified.

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