Rapid antigen testing may be part of indoor dining solution, says Coveney

Working group involving Government and hospitality industry to meet on Monday

Leading figures in Nphet have repeatedly expressed reservations about the limitations of antigen testing. Photograph: Laura Hutton / The Irish Times

Leading figures in Nphet have repeatedly expressed reservations about the limitations of antigen testing. Photograph: Laura Hutton / The Irish Times

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The Government believes the only way a “vaccine pass” for indoor dining and drinking can be operational by July 19th is if it involves antigen testing.

Ahead of the crucial first meeting of the working group involving the Government and the hospitality industry on Monday, senior Cabinet figures confirmed over the weekend that rapid antigen testing may play a role in the system.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said yesterday that antigen testing may be a part of the solution but it was too early to say for definite.

“There are six EU countries that allow indoor dining to take place on the basis of vaccine, or they have recovered from Covid, or they have tested negative in an antigen test. We are looking at those countries and how they operate that and the success of it,” he told RTÉ Radio’s This Week.

It is expected any vaccine pass will be closely modelled on the EU Covid Digital Certificate for travel which has a testing strand to it. While there have been some doubts raised about the State having the EU digital certificate ready by July 19th, Government sources said over the weekend they were confident it would be up and running by the deadline.

Hospital Report

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU
286 59
Total doses distributed to Ireland Total doses administered in Ireland
8,557,330 7,130,149

Leading figures in the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) have repeatedly expressed reservations about the limitations of antigen testing and have insisted the vaccine pass have a robust and enforceable system of verification.

However, given the commitment to finding an early solution, Ministers said privately over the weekend it could not be done in time without a testing strand. Some said excluding younger people and those who cannot be vaccinated because they are immuno-compromised would be discriminatory.

“My own sense of it there will be a testing strand to whatever system comes in. There was strong pushback [to the Nphet recommendation] on discrimination grounds,” said one Minister, speaking privately. “With the best will in the world, even with extra vaccines there is still a few months to go before we reach [herd immunity]. We need something before then.”

The trade union movement is also pressing the Government to introduce an antigen testing programme as part of moves to reopen the hospitality sector. In a letter to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions suggested such a programme could be introduced “on a continuous basis possibly modelled on the meat factories experience”.

New cases rising

Bodies representing restaurants and pubs emphasised the urgency of an early reopening and demanded that Nphet be present for Monday’s meeting. “It is the ultimate decision-maker,” said Padraig Cribben of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland. However, it is understood Nphet members will not attend.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said yesterday that encouraging developments in the past week that will see more doses available for a wider spread of ages might mean 80 per cent of the adult population could be fully vaccinated by late August or early September.

On Sunday, the Department of Health reported 562 new cases of Covid-19, the highest daily total since May 1st. The number of patients being treated in hospital is 48, with 14 in ICU.

The increase is attributable to the growing spread of the Delta variant. While the hospital admissions remain stable, a senior Government official said the numbers were climbing and “next week will tell a lot”.

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