No date for cheaper antigen test plan as Government seeks ‘best value’ for money

It had been expected that the Cabinet would approve a subsidy scheme on Tuesday.
No date for cheaper antigen test plan as Government seeks ‘best value’ for money

By Dominic McGrath, PA

The Taoiseach was unable to tell the Dáil on Wednesday when a highly anticipated scheme for cheaper antigen tests would be launched.

Micheál Martin was pressed by Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shortall to clear up confusion about when Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly would bring forward a scheme to subsidise antigen testing.

“The people are trying. Most of them are doing their best. So why are you not giving them the basic tools that they need to win this fight?” Ms Shortall asked Mr Martin during leaders’ questions.

It had been expected that the Cabinet would approve a scheme on Tuesday.

 

“The lack of urgency and failure to respond at speed to an escalating emergency is shocking,” she said.

“Government hasn’t the foggiest idea what kind of subsidy scheme it wants to put in place. This is a mess.

“We know antigen testing is not a silver bullet. But they are a vital tool in this fight. One that many people can simply not afford to use currently.”

She called on the Government to stop “wrangling” and introduce a subsidy.

Mr Martin told the Dáil: “Antigen testing is a supplementary tool, and one I believe in.”

Micheal Martin
Micheal Martin was pressed to clear up confusion (PA)

He said that the Government had backed antigen testing across a range of areas, including in colleges and for the testing of close contacts.

Ms Shortall responded: “So when are we going to get a decision in relation to at least subsidised antigen testing? Do we have to wait another week?”

“There is a scheme being developed. But we have to get best value as well for the public purse. It is important we just don’t dive into it,” Mr Martin said.

“That will happen, and we will bring the details to you.”

The Government has faced questions in recent says about the introduction of antigen testing, with opposition parties accusing the Minister for Health of dragging his feet on the issue.

During leaders’ questions on Wednesday, Mr Martin said that his Government – which introduced a set of fresh measures last week to curb the spread of the virus – was putting its faith in reduced socialising and the booster programme.

“The fundamental variables that will really change this is actually reducing socialisation which people are doing, will be the booster campaign, which is going to have an impact in terms of the prevalence and the continuation of disease,” he told the Dáil.

“Those are the key, in my view, approach to this.”

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