CMO to face questions on antigen tests before Oireachtas transport committee

Dr Tony Holohan agreed to answer questions regarding Nphet's stance on antigen testing.
CMO to face questions on antigen tests before Oireachtas transport committee

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan is due to appear at a meeting of the Oireachtas transport committee later today.

He is expected to face questions regarding the National Public Health Emergency Team's (Nphet) stance regarding antigen tests which has been criticised by some sectors, including representatives from the aviation industry.

Antigen tests provide a much quicker turnaround in test results for Covid-19 than PCR tests, which are currently required for international travel, however, the rapid tests have been shown to be less accurate in certain instances, particularly for asymptomatic cases.

According to a review on antigen tests by the HSE published earlier this week, just 52 per cent of positive cases were detected when a single antigen test was taken, compared to a PCR test.

The review noted the tests showed 80 per cent sensitivity to symptomatic cases, however, other types of tests are equally, if not more sensitive under similar circumstances.

"For the purposes of asymptomatic screening, a single, stand-alone antigen diagnostic test is not recommended, as a significant proportion of people who are infected and infectious to others will not be detected," the HSE report stated.

Nphet have previously warned against relying too heavily on antigen tests for this reason, however, this has drawn criticism from those who believe the quick turnaround in results could allow for a safer reopening of society, claiming the tests could be of use to the hospitality and travel industries.

'Beyond belief'

Speaking to Newstalk ahead of Dr Holohan's appearance at the committee meeting, president of the Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA) Evan Cullen said there will be further job losses in the aviation sector if antigen tests for international travel are not given the green light.

"We see no reason why Ireland chooses to be different to almost every other EU country in not adopting antigen testing for pre-departure and for accessing Ireland.

"It is beyond belief that the CMO and his team in Nphet take a different view to leading global experts on antigen testing."

Last week, the transport committee heard from assistant epidemiology professor at Harvard University, Michael Mina, who criticised Nphet's approach to antigen testing.

Prof Mina said Ireland's resistance to the tests in settings such as sporting events and airports was "baffling", adding Nphet's questions regarding the accuracy of antigen tests was "just inaccurate".

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