Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said there will now be an enhanced role for antigen testing throughout society.

It is one of the main changes in today's Government announcement and follows new advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team on the use of the tests.

The benefit of antigen testing for Covid-19 has been the subject of considerable debate.

Currently if a person is fully vaccinated and deemed a close contact of a confirmed case, there is no advice to get a test if people do not have symptoms.

However, in future, if people are deemed to be a close contact and are fully vaccinated, they will be sent a rapid antigen test.

More information will be made available online for people on the use of antigen testing.

Speaking at a news conference this afternoon, Mr Martin said tests will now be sent to fully vaccinated people who are close contacts of confirmed cases.

"We will work with the sectors to develop a role for antigen tests to further improve the safety of certain events and activities".

He said they will "also work with the expert group on antigen testing in terms of the wider use of such tests amongst the general population".

Meanwhile, the Tánaiste explained that the strategy has three elements.

"Vaccines, test, trace and isolate, and keeping our economy and society fully open, but with protections."

Leo Varadkar said boosters will be offered to people over the age of 60, those who have not been vaccinated are being encouraged to get the jab and antigen testing will play a bigger role.

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"When it comes to test, trace and isolate, it's an expansion of antigen testing. So, we will be resuming testing of fully vaccinated people who are close contacts and have no symptoms but that will be done through antigen testing to supplement our PCR testing", he said.

People attending events in groups or crowds will be encouraged to self test, using antigen testing and the Tánaiste said more information on this will be available soon.

At the moment, if a person is a fully vaccinated close contact there is no advice to get a test. Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly earlier said that given the current prevalence of the disease, that advice is now changing.

"So what will happen now is, if you are deemed to be a close contact and you're fully vaccinated we'll send you out a rapid test."

"We're also going to be making really good material available online for people as well, so there's been a lot of very positive moves I think on antigen testing."

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the Government has to help provide "the pass, the mask, the test and the boost".

"NPHET is saying that if you are engaging in some of those higher risk social activities take the [antigen] test and if you are symptomatic, don't go out. And if you are positive, go and get the PCR test and make sure," Minister Ryan added.

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Tánaiste Leo Varadkar rejected any suggestion that the Government did not conduct antigen testing soon enough, saying they have used it significantly to date.

However he added that the preference from Government and Minister Donnelly would have been to do more of it sooner but he said they had to take account of scientific advice.

He explained the thinking at the time was that they are not as reliable as PCR tests and people could get false assurances from them.

"Now we are in a different place," he said, adding that people are allowed to do most things now so antigen tests have a bigger role to play.

Antigen tests an 'important tool'

A professor of immunology at Maynooth University has said that while antigen tests are by no means a "silver bullet or a panacea", they are an important tool in the fight against Covid-19.

Professor Paul Moynagh said antigen testing in infectious cases can detect 80-90% of cases and these results are ready in real-time.

This is really informative for people attending events, he added.

Prof Moynagh added that close contacts in schools could be tested at home for a week and this would help pick up more infectious cases.

No one would suggest that antigen testing should replace PCR tests, he said, but asked why a technology that could pick up high viral load cases should be ignored.

Meanwhile, Dr Ray Walley, a member of the National GP Advisory team to the Health Service Executive and UCD Associate Clinical Professor, said it is accepted throughout that world that a PCR test is the most "highly specific test" that can be done if you are symptomatic.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Philip Boucher-Hayes, Dr Walley said his concern regarding antigen tests is that it reduces the messaging of how important it is to get a PCR test and isolate if you are symptomatic.

Antigen tests can also be quite resource-intensive, he said – citing a festival in Barcelona recently where dozens of nurses worked 12-hour shifts to carry out antigen tests.

He said he would have "significant concerns" if resources being used for PCR testing were to be moved to antigen testing.

He added that there would have to be a lot of education in regard to this: "Basically, there is evidence that there is a degradation in the success of the test when it's not done by scientists or by trained individuals.

"It is down to how far you stuff it up your nose and put yourself to that degree of pain."