Donnelly criticises Nphet modelling expert over ‘snake oil’ comments

The Health Minister said the remark by Professor Philip Nolan was ‘unhelpful’.
Donnelly criticises Nphet modelling expert over ‘snake oil’ comments

By Michelle Devane, PA

The Health Minister has criticised public health expert Professor Philip Nolan for comparing antigen tests to snake oil.

Stephen Donnelly described the comment by the National Public Health Emergency Team’s modelling expert as “unhelpful” and said such testing is “one of the tools” that can be used in the fight against Covid-19.

He added that antigen tests are part of Government policy.

Supermarket chain Lidl has begun selling antigen tests for €31 in its stores, but public health officials have voiced concerns over the accuracy of the tests.

In a tweet on Saturday Mr Nolan referenced Lidl’s antigen tests, saying: “Can I get some snake oil with that?”

He added: “Stay safe when socialising outdoors over the next few weeks. Small numbers, distance, masks. These antigen tests will not keep you safe.”

Mr Donnelly said there are “strongly held views” by credible people on both sides of the issue.

“I don’t think it was a helpful comment, if I’m honest,” he said. “It is government policy.

“I have great respect for Professor Nolan and I have no doubt that his concern was around people using them in the wrong way.

Coronavirus – Thu May 28, 2020
Professor Philip Nolan (Brian Lawless/PA)

“And I think it is entirely possible that anybody just going into a supermarket, on picking up a pack without maybe having had a conversation about the fact that if you get a negative result, it really doesn’t necessarily mean you’re negative at all, that it could create a certain risk.

“But I think they are one part of the tool kit we have.”

The minister also said that as the technology improves and the sensitivity of tests gets better, there’s a “good chance” they will have a more important role to play.

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