Close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case who are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic will now receive a box of antigen tests.
t is the first time that the DIY tests, which have a quick turnaround, are being used by the HSE in this way.
The HSE said today that all close contacts will get a text message which states that if not fully vaccinated and symptomatic they will be referred for a PCR test.
But if they are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic they will be sent antigen tests to do at home.
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“The text message will be followed up by a call from the contact tracers who will go through their vaccination history, symptoms and do the referral as appropriate for either PCR or antigen testing.
“The contact tracer will take address details and antigen tests will be delivered by An Post in the regular post.
“Close contacts who fall into the category for antigen testing will receive a box of five antigen tests and will be asked to do three tests – the first test on the day they receive their test kit, the second test two days later and the third test two days after that.”.
The HSE explained that if antigen tests are positive we are requesting close contacts book a PCR test – as part of that booking process they will be asked to tick that they had a positive antigen result.
“If a close contact develops symptoms while they are in the process of doing antigen testing they need to self-isolate and book a PCR test. Those whose antigen tests are negative are also asked to report their negative results via the HSE website.”
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly confirmed that the new initiative has begun and that close contacts who are vaccinated and do not have symptoms of the virus will now be able to test themselves at home using the free tests.
The Government announced earlier this month that antigen testing would have a wider role in the country’s response to the pandemic.
The free antigen tests are available to anyone aged 13 and over.
“It is a really important day today for rapid testing,” Mr Donnelly said.
He said households can expect to receive antigen tests from Friday onwards.
Mr Donnelly urged anyone with symptoms to still get a PCR test.
The Health Minister admitted that he would have liked the rollout of rapid testing to have been quicker.
“It has been slower than I would have liked,” he told Newstalk.
Concerns have been expressed in recent days about the major increase in Covid-19 cases.
On Wednesday, a further 1,631 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Ireland.
There were 503 people in hospital with the disease, with 101 in intensive care.
At a briefing by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Wednesday afternoon, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said there had been a 27pc increase in the number of patients in hospital with the virus in the last two weeks.
There were 67 newly notified deaths in the past week.
Mr Donnelly said that Ireland’s successful vaccine programme was the only reason that nightclubs and late-night venues had been allowed to reopen.
The Health Minister expressed support for the idea of extending the vaccine booster programme to healthcare workers, but said the Department of Health had to wait for advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC).
“I would do it tomorrow. I think there’s a very strong case for boosters for healthcare workers,” he said.
“The advice from NIAC has always worked population by population, cohort by cohort.”
Mr Donnelly said that he and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan were “engaging very closely with NIAC on this”.