dine away | 

No plans for booster vaccine requirement for people to dine indoors as 2 million certs issued

New EU rules state that from February 1 Covid passes will have a nine-month validity from vaccinationBut the Department of Health said this would not be implemented domesticallyMeanwhile, Nphet does not recommend any new restrictions in latest advice
Covid passes (Stock image)

Covid passes (Stock image)

Gabija Gataveckaite and Eoghan Moloney

The Government has no current plans for booster vaccines to be a requirement for indoor dining, as more than two million certs are to be issued.

New EU rules state that from February 1 Covid passes will have a nine-month validity from vaccination, meaning that people will be incentivised to get the booster jab to keep their freedom of travel.

But the Department of Health said this would not be implemented domestically for indoor venues.

“Similar validity periods on vaccination certificates for domestic use (such as access to indoor dining, etc) are not currently planned by the Government,” the statement said.

It means while people will soon need a booster vaccine in order to travel within the EU, they will be able to rely on their original vaccine cert from last year to enter a pub or restaurant in Ireland.

The latest statement from Stephen Donnelly’s department also appears to contradict comments by Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Mr Martin indicated earlier this week booster shots will be necessary for indoor dining “in the fullness of time”.

But until that happens, there is less incentive to get the booster for those who simply see it as a way to access indoor hospitality. It also raises the prospect of more people with waning immunity to Covid, who have not received the booster, socialising in pubs and restaurants.

Meanwhile, it emerged last night that the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has not recommended any new restrictions to Government.

Public health experts met yesterday to assess the latest Covid-19 situation and in a letter to Health Minister Mr Donnelly, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan did not recommend any further restrictions.

The Government asked Nphet this week to examine if self-isolating periods for people who have been fully boosted and are close contacts can be shortened to keep key sectors of society open.

However, it is understood that no changes to isolation rules were recommended as public health experts await for the Omicron wave to peak in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure Ossian Smyth, who is responsible for overseeing the roll-out of the updated certs, promised that over two million certs will be issued to those people who have been boosted over the next week.

Last summer saw the fiasco of passengers having to wait six hours to speak to an operator in a call centre when they did not have their certs after the travel ban was lifted. Mr Smyth told the Irish Independent this would not be repeated following the set-up of an online portal.

However, people who have recently had Covid but were not able to get positive PCR tests, due to an overwhelmed testing system over Christmas, will now find themselves caught up in stricter close contact isolation rules.

They will also be caught up in a travel limbo from next month – as health chiefs have advised that fully vaccinated people who had breakthrough infections should not be boosted for three months.

This is despite promises from the HSE’s Paul Reid that people will be able to register their positive antigen tests online by the end of next week.

This long-awaited update will mean that people who have positive antigen tests will not need to seek confirmatory PCR tests. “Our whole system is built around the PCR process,” he said.

The Government is also hoping to soften close contact self-isolation rules for people who have received booster jabs to avoid staff shortages in key parts of society.

People who have gotten booster jabs will not have to request the cert and it will be sent out automatically. A small number will receive a text with a link to download the cert.

Mr Smyth said people would also be able to ring the helpline and get their cert posted to them. He is also keen to not see a repeat of last year’s chaotic scenes where passengers who were due to travel after the ban lifted had still not received their certs and spent as much as six hours waiting to speak to a call centre operator. “No-one should be on a phone to a call centre, hanging on for hours and hours on end,” he said.

The online portal allows people to update details on their cert, apply for a recovery cert, or get the cert resent to them, as well as other options.

“People were waiting hours to get through to the call centre and I really felt that we should have an online way of requesting things and requesting changes,” he said.

Mr Smyth said people have 25 days to get their booster jabs and sort out their EU travel certs before travelling.

He added that there had been “no decision” on whether or not the updated certs would be required for indoor dining.

Meanwhile, hospitals are under “persistent” pressure as beds are being closed due to “staffing challenges”, according to HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor.

She said that sites were working with a staff absence rate of 12pc on average.

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