The Health Service Executive's online portal for the public to upload their positive antigen tests will go live on Friday but could be the victim of "play-acting", Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said.
Speaking outside the RDS vaccination centre on Thursday morning, Mr Donnelly said he was told by the HSE that they expect the portal to be used responsibly after he was asked questions about potentially false positives being uploaded for either recovery certs or work reasons.
“I think like most things in this pandemic, we are relying on people doing the right thing. I think over the last two years what we’ve seen time and time again, people have continually done the right thing. Is it open to a bit a bit of play acting? It is.”
The HSE said on Thursday that anyone who wishes to obtain a digital recovery cert will need to get a PCR test or a professionally administered antigen test.
The HSE’s lead on the vaccine programme Damien McCallion said there are “very limited measures or safeguards that you could put in place in any case in that sort of self-testing scenario.”
However, he said the regulations were clear that either a PCR or professionally administerd antigen test would be needed for a recovery cert.
Mr Donnelly said he had spoken with intensive care experts on Thursday and is encouraged about the stability in hospitals despite the very high Omicron case numbers.
“The hospital figures, certainly the critical care figures, are very stable. We do have to be conscious, of course, of the additional workload on the nurses, on the doctors and on the entire hospital system with these extra thousand patients in there.
“I was talking to some of our intensive care people this morning and they were reporting that the numbers are still steady and they are not seeing anything in the pre-intensive care hospital patients or the non-intensive care patients that would suggest that those numbers are going to start rising quickly in the coming days. So again, very positive stuff.”
Asked about when Ireland might reach herd immunity, Mr Donnelly said the figure or threshold is continuously changing. "The more contagious these things are, the higher the number of people you need to have either vaccine immunity or natural immunity. I would imagine given the extraordinarily contagious nature of Omicron that the number would be very high."
Despite this, he said it could be the case that Ireland passes the Omicron peak without knowing until a short time afterwards.
"What I think is interesting is the modelling that Phillip Nolan and the team are doing. The question we're all asking is when is the peak? And I think Prof Nolan was pointing out last night that on the basis that there are a lot more cases out there than we are recording... we could actually have passed the peak before it has been picked up on."
He said the Government will receive fresh modelling shortly.
Asked about confusion around who will distribute higher-grade face masks, after the HSE said it would not be providing such masks to the public despite comments from the chief medical officer Tony Holohan, Mr Donnelly said: "In fairness to the HSE, the issue around masks is not one that they have been asked to do. It's not something they had been aware of, as I think they confirmed last night, but look, we can always keep these things under review.
“My own view would be, be it for testing or be it for masks , it’s something that I think a lot of employers could look at and should be looking at. I would include public sector bodies in that as well.”
Meanwhile, it has emerged that extra vaccinators in centres around the country are likely to be deployed back to their original posts in pharmacies, GP clinics and back into normal hospital roles and into the community now that antigen tests are the primary source or verifying a Covid-19 infection.