Digital passes allowing Irish people to travel freely within the European Union may be available from the end of July, according to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.
All EU members have agreed to issue free digital green certificates, allowing anyone who has been vaccinated, tested negative or recovered from Covid-19 to travel in the bloc, under a scheme set out by the European Commission.
Mr Varadkar said the Government believed it would have its system for issuing the certificates “up and running” six weeks from the middle of next month.
“So it will be end of July when we would expect to have them issued,” the Tánaiste added.
According to an EU spokesman, the commission will put in place a system allowing member states to validate each others certificates next month. Individual countries can begin connecting to the system from that point.
Member states would have “a lot of flexibility” in how they use the certificates according to their own border rules, Mr Varadkar said. “It will be really useful, giving border control authorities information as to whether people are vaccinated, whether they’ve had Covid, whether they’ve had a recent test.”
The EU said that each certificate will feature a public key, which will not reveal the holder’s personal information. The key will be held on a national directory.
The commission’s central system will allow member states to exchange the public keys, enabling countries across the EU to verify each others certificates.
“The technical specifications have been agreed by all the member states together,” the commission said yesterday, adding that they were adopted and published on April 21st.
The commission is offering digital applications and €1 million in funding to each member state to help them in setting up their own systems and directories.
Airlines and the travel trade are increasingly frustrated at the lack of Government progress on reopening the Republic.
Irish Travel Agents Association chief executive Pat Dawson, and board member Paul Hackett, recently told the Oireachtas transport committee that it was not clear which arm of Government was responsible for digital certificates.
The departments of health, Taoiseach and transport said that work on the certificates was ongoing.
Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar said on Friday that the Government wants to encourage workplaces, schools and colleges to use rapid Covid testing. Launching a new protocol on working safely, Mr Varadkar stressed that the Government had adopted an experts report recommending the use of fast antigen tests to combat the pandemic.
“The position of the Government is that it’s really schools, colleges and workplaces where we want to encourage antigen testing,” the Tánaiste said.
Chief medical officer Tony Holohan, and Philip Nolan chairman of the National Public Health Emergency Team, oppose the use of the faster, cheaper antigen tests. But a report by a group headed by Prof Mark Ferguson, chief executive of Science Foundation Ireland, recommends the use of antigen tests in workplaces and other settings.