People going to conferences should take antigen tests

People going to indoor classical music concerts, business conferences or trade fairs should take an antigen test in advance, an expert group on rapid testing has recommended.

he expert advisory group on rapid testing has developed a new risk assessment tool designed to produce a single minimum testing recommendation for a specific event or activity.

Details of the tool are outlined in a letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly who is anxious to use it as a basis for more widespread use of rapid antigen testing across society. The minister has already outlined his desire to subsidise the tests which are sold in pharmacies and some retail outlets.

It comes after months of resistance to their use by Dr Tony Holohan and senior Nphet figures who questioned their reliability and the existence of any evidence to support their wider use.

But Nphet last week broadly endorsed the proposal from the expert group, which is chaired by the president of the Royal College of Physicians Professor Mary Horgan, for antigen tests to be used at least twice a week by people regularly engaging in high risk activities.

Ms Horgan’s group has identified these activities as eating indoors at a restaurant, going to a pub, going to a nightclub, indoor multi household home visits, playing indoor high or full contact sports (ie football, basketball), going to the cinema and car sharing. People who engage in one or more of these activities on a regular basis are advised to take an antigen test.

“The aim should be to create solidarity between cohorts of the public who share common interests, eg gym-goers, and to promote the idea that where each person uses RADT [rapid tests] the whole group benefits and it is more likely that the activity they all enjoy (the gym in this example) can remain open,” Professor Horgan wrote in her letter to Mr Donnelly last week.

The new tool has also identified other high risk activities following requests from specific government departments where it recommends people take a rapid test in advance of attending. These include business conferences, trade fairs, and seated indoor conferences where the average age of attendees is 45 and over, for example a classical concert.

In a letter to the minister last Tuesday, the expert group set out the complex criteria used for assessing whether or not people should take antigen tests.

The risk assessment tool sets out the steps for assessing whether rapid testing should be used for an event or activity, including the population’s risk of severe disease based on their age; the estimated prevalence of Covid at an event or activity based on the latest epidemiological models; and the risk of transmission based on published evidence. This is used to determine the minimum testing recommended which ranges from no testing, to a single self-administered test, to a single supervised test.

The letter to Mr Donnelly includes an example of a risk assessment report which determined that going to an outdoor playground would require no additional test, whereas going to a bar would require a single self-test and going to an indoor exercise class would require a twice weekly self-test or a single supervised test.

Professor Horgan’s letter also emphasises that rapid tests should be viewed as an additional mitigation measure. A negative result on a rapid test should not be seen as “sufficient basis upon which to cease self-isolation” the letter states, adding: “It should never be used as a ‘green-light’ for a symptomatic individual to engage in activities with others.”

It comes as the Department of Health last night reported 4,642 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).


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