By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
The Health Service Executive (HSE) is planning to utilise antigen testing for Covid outbreaks and for close contacts, its chief executive has said.
Paul Reid said the hospital system in Ireland is currently very busy due to the backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Reid told RTE’s This Week programme: “What none of us want to go back to is those dark days in January when we had over 2,000 people being treated with Covid in hospital, and certainly the modelling from Nphet (National Public Health Emergency Team) presents huge issues for us in terms of hospitalisations.
“But our approach is, first of all, the vaccination programme, the public should take great assurance from.
“We are now ranking as the highest in the world in the last seven days for vaccines administered per 100 of the population, so that is the first line of defence.
“Our plan is to continue the vaccinations down through the ages – so the 30s during July, then in August start opening it up to the 20s.”
He added: “We are planning to utilise antigen testing for outbreaks where they are very well proven and potentially also for close contacts, and indeed in the UK there are elements of self-swabbing in centres so we are looking at a whole range of initiatives.”
For those aged 60 and 70 waiting for their second AstraZeneca jab, they can expect to be fully vaccinated by the end of next week and early into the following week at the latest, Mr Reid said.
Mr Reid also said the HSE would welcome a “planned and pragmatic approach” to easing restrictions.
“I’ve always been very clear, long time restrictions, lockdowns of the community, of enterprise and business, is not good for the health service either.”
Meanwhile, a minister has said the Government is committed to reopening indoor hospitality in Ireland as soon as possible.
It follows reports that a plan is due to go to Cabinet on Tuesday which would allow people under the age of 18 to go inside bars and restaurants if they are accompanied by a fully vaccinated person.
The anticipated legislation would allow fully vaccinated people to eat and drink inside pubs and restaurants later this month.
Education Minister Norma Foley told RTE’s The Week In Politics: “There is a huge commitment from all parties, everyone is working together with a focus to reopening as soon as we possibly can, in terms of indoor hospitality.
“I am very heartened to see such collective engagement by all to ensure this will happen and I am very confident from a legislation point of view that support will be forthcoming.”
There have been an additional 576 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, the Department of Health said.
As of 8am on Sunday, there were 58 people in hospital, of whom 16 were in intensive care units.