"No one can answer that question right now" - Stephen Donnelly refuses to rule out lockdowns at Christmas or beyond
"We want to do everything we can to keep everything open."
Stephen Donnelly has refused to say whether or not Ireland would be heading into another lockdown this Christmas or in the future as the Covid-19 situation continues to escalate.
He made the comments during an interview on RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland on Wednesday (17 November).
The Minister for Health was grilled on the programme about the new measures confirmed on Tuesday, such as introducing Covid passes to access theatres and cinemas, but not to hairdressers and gyms.
"We can go further, but what we wanted to do was put in a package of measures we thought would work very quickly," he said.
"Once you start getting into personal services or places where people go to work out, you get into a much more complex situation of what's allowed and what's not allowed."
Antigen tests were widely discussed in the course of the interview, as close contacts identified by the HSE will be sent a pack of rapid tests for free.
The close contacts will not need to self-isolate, but will need to take two to three tests within a five-day period.
Donnelly discussed the cost of antigen tests, and while he said that there were plans to subsidise the tests, there were no plans as yet to make them free of charge.
"A single test will cost €8, it's too much," he said.
"The advice I have is that they shouldn't be free. They're free in the UK and the government came under huge criticism in parliament for that, because essentially there were no controls on how they were being used at all.
They're very, very expensive. Everytime you subsidise an antigen test, it's money you're not spending on a nurse, you're not spending on a doctor."
Donnelly's main cause of concern for subsidising antigen tests is that they may be used needlessly.
"We need to communicate with people when and when not to use them. I was listening to a doctor on the radio this morning who was concerned that a lot of his patients were using them incorrectly. They were saying 'well I'm thinking of doing the following thing, but I may not do it' or that they are symptomatic so I'll use a rapid test.
"That's not what they're for. If you're symptomatic, get a PCR test."
The antigen tests from the HSE, and the ones used in schools for children, will be free, however, there is no timeline for when these antigen tests will be implemented in schools yet.
"They'll be available shortly, I fully hear the urgency, I share the urgency, we're pushing very, very hard on this and we'll have more details on it very shortly," Donnelly said.
Asked about the possibility of a future lockdown, Donnelly was unable to provide a clear answer.
"We want to do everything we can to keep everything open... No one can answer that question now," he said.