Minister for Higher and Further Education Simon Harris has said the opening of colleges is not contingent on the success of the UniCov scheme, which is a pilot antigen testing programme.

Speaking to RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Harris said the trial scheme will involve 8,000 staff and students taking part in rapid testing over the summer months.

It will involve two types of test - serial and random.

Mr Harris said it could act as an early robust warning system for Covid-19 as campuses reopen, and the scheme will allow experts made informed decisions about the future of rapid tests.

The scheme began earlier this week across four universities - NUI Galway, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, and University College Cork.

Mr Harris added that "even with the great benefit of vaccination, we are going to have to keep an eye on this virus in the years ahead".

The minister said antigen testing will never be a replacement for public health measures, PCR testing or vaccination, but that it could be a valuable additional tool in the fight against Covid-19.

Meanwhile, he welcomed the National Public Health Emergency Team's statement that there would be a benefit in a rapid testing project in the aviation sector because it badly needs support and Ireland needs to reestablish connectivity.

Mr Harris accepted that families would face big costs if they choose to travel and need a PCR test and said it is something the Government will have to consider.

However, he said the PCR test will be necessary, particularly as variants continue to develop.

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