Infectious diseases expert professor Mary Horgan, who is head of the Government’s expert group on rapid testing, has said that antigen testing could “potentially” lead to an earlier reopening of society.

Prof Horgan told RTÉ radio’s News at One that the Antigen Testing Group would examine how rapid testing could be best deployed to allow the reopening of society.

Part of the work of the group will involve drawing up national minimum standards for such tests, she explained, along with looking at a platform for a national infrastructure.

The HSE has supported a number of rapid testing initiatives already, she added, in healthcare settings, meat plants and in education. “They really have been supportive of rapid testing in certain settings.”

Part of the remit for the Antigen Testing Group will be establishing good structure, good guidelines and good education policies on the tests, said Prof Horgan.

There was no debate that PCR testing was more sensitive, but antigen testing was effective in identifying people who were positive, and they could be then warned not to leave home to go to work or college. It was an additional layer of protection in the fight against Covid.

“This virus keeps throwing us new curve balls, new variants.

Necessary IT

However, it was important that people use the right test at the right time, she cautioned. The best time to prepare was when things were quiet, which was now, she said.

Prof Horgan said she was hoping that once the Minister for Health agreed the terms of reference for the group they could commence work, but it was important to have supports such as the necessary IT.

Other countries had been very good at sharing information about their experience of antigen testing and that was a big help, she said.

Ireland was now two to three weeks behind the UK (Delta variant) so it was important to examine what happens there.

Thirty percent of the UK cases of the Delta variant had been detected by antigen testing, so there was a need to move forward and not look back and to focus on rolling out antigen testing.

The most important message she said was that if anyone was offered a vaccine, they should take it as it offered the best protection against the Delta variant.