C: Houses of the Oireachtas

Harvard Prof after listening to Donnelly: I feel sorry for Ireland

In case you missed it, yesterday morning Ireland was graced with a rather remarkable interview between the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, and Newstalk’s veteran presenter, Pat Kenny, about Antigen testing.

Remarkable, for a couple of reasons.

Remarkable firstly, because it is the first time in quite a while that an Irish broadcaster has seriously challenged Irish Government policy on the pandemic to the face of an Irish Government minister. And remarkable, secondly, because of how unprepared Donnelly was, as if he simply wasn’t expecting to be seriously challenged. If you have not seen it, watch:

“Oh Stephen, this is bad. This is propaganda, this is not fact”, says Kenny. And he is right.

The whole point of Antigen tests, after all, is to test for infectivity. Donnelly is correct to say that a negative antigen test does not mean that you do not have covid, but he completely leaves out the most important point, which is that if you get a negative antigen test, you are – almost certainly – not infectious.

Anyway, all of this caught the eye of our old friend, Harvard Professor Michael Mina, who, you may remember, laid into Philip Nolan earlier this week when Nolan dismissed antigen testing. Nolan, by the way, lacked the courage or the decency to reply to Mina’s criticisms. Here’s Mina on Donnelly. “I feel sorry for Ireland”, he says. You are not alone, doc:

The confusing thing here is that it is genuinely impossible to divine a public health objective to the Government’s messaging on Antigen testing. What is their fear? Presumably, it is that people will misinterpret a negative antigen test result and engage in risky behaviours. But is that not also a risk with PCR testing? After all, PCR testing is not 100% accurate either. There is as much chance of somebody assuming they are fine – and being mistaken about that – after a PCR test as there is after an antigen test.

And what is more: generally speaking, while a negative antigen test does not mean you do not have covid, it does probably mean you are unlikely to transmit it. A PCR test gone wrong, by contrast, could miss somebody who is positive and infectious.

Would the Government’s energies not be more effectively directed, then, towards a PR/advertising campaign informing people about the strengths and weaknesses of antigen tests, and how to use them? They are, by all accounts, flying off the shelves. On this subject, the confidence of the public in the Government’s messaging appears to all but have evaporated. Would it not make more sense, then, to work with the public, rather than against them?

Apparently not. Which is why Professor Mina feels sorry for us. They do not inspire a lot of confidence, at the moment, the Government.

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