No decision to subsidize antigen testing, says Donohoe

No decision to subsidize antigen testing for the public has yet been made by the government, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said.

Despite expectations since last week of a plan to provide antigen testing to the public at a subsidized cost of around € 3, no proposal has yet been submitted to Cabinet by Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly, Mr. Donohoe confirmed.

The original proposal was to start with pharmacies, before other retailers, who would be able to advise on when to use rapid tests.

However, a review is still ongoing as to how other parts of the retail industry might participate in the program. A late offer by retailers on how they might get on board may be one reason for the delay.

Sources said there may be other changes in the structure of the regime. In its original form, it would have cost around 31 million euros per month or 93 million euros for the three-month diet envisaged.

When asked if a policy decision had been made on the testing subsidy, Donohoe said the whole issue would be considered when Donnelly brings proposals to Cabinet.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has warned that the incorrect use of antigen testing by many people could lead to an increase in infections.

The government decided last week to expand the use of antigen testing in response to the emerging fourth wave and ministers and senior officials expected a plan for subsidized testing to be concluded before the weekend. end. Now, it was not presented to Cabinet at its weekly meeting this morning.

Dr Holohan has lobbied heavily within government against the testing subsidy, writing to Mr Donnelly last week to tell him it would be a mistake. He cited investigative evidence suggesting their widespread abuse.

Trust in the system

Meanwhile, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said there was a need to “act quickly” on antigen testing subsidies – but also to be “logical” in how they are diligent and “do it right”.

“A final decision is needed on the subsidy and the cost, and I have no doubt that the Minister of Health will present it shortly,” said Harris, noting that the tests are used in facilities. higher education, for close contacts, and in settings like meat factories and nursing homes already.

“So if we had had this conversation a few weeks ago, it wouldn’t have been true to say that antigen testing was an important part of Ireland’s national toolkit. This is changing, very clearly they are. And the Minister of Health will now finalize the grant proposals with colleagues from all governments. We have to move quickly on this, but we also have to do it right, it has to make sense, ”he said, adding that although many people are“ getting on with it ”and buying the tests themselves. , there was a need for a large grant.

“If we want them to do it regularly, and I want to see them do it regularly, I think it’s important that we help them with the costs, so the final details are up to the Minister of Health to submit proposals to the Minister of Health. government. to.”

Richard Bruton, TD Fine Gael for Dublin Bay North, said it was important that people “have faith” in the system that has been put in place.

“We first have to educate people on how we use them, and I think it’s being done, and we have to make them affordable, and the granting system has been agreed that it’s going to be done, but they work out the details with the retailers to make sure that when it’s advertised, you have something that people will trust.

His party colleague Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, TD for Dun Laoighaire, said it was “very clear that the Irish are quite capable of using things correctly and have learned so much during the Covid period”.

Lack of urgency

The opposition TDs criticized the delay and called for free antigen testing.

Sinn Féin health spokesperson David Cullinane said it was “unbelievable” that a year after the creation of an expert group there is still no “coherent plan” for the use of antigen testing.

He claimed that there was a “lack of urgency” on the part of the government and that “it is quite easy to be honest to put in place a plan where you talk to the experts, listen to what the group of ‘experts said, make it very clear to people what it will This antigen test will be used for, then set up a subsidy plan – or in our case, it will just be available for free. “

TD Social Democrats Jennifer Whitmore said: “We are in an emergency and the most important thing we can do is identify the cases and suppress the transmission.

“Free antigen testing would help us do that. Considering the huge increase in cases, cost should not be a barrier to the use of antigen testing. “

The Labor Party, meanwhile, accused the government of focusing on supporting businesses rather than supporting workers.

Senator Marie Sherlock said her party was “deeply concerned” about this.

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