HSE will not provide free PCR tests to unvaccinated for travel purposes, Minister says

Lifting of restriction on non-essential travel not guaranteed on July 19th, Ossian Smyth warns

Ossian Smyth warned it was not guaranteed the restriction on non-essential travel would be lifted on July 19th. File photograph: The Irish Times

Ossian Smyth warned it was not guaranteed the restriction on non-essential travel would be lifted on July 19th. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Minister of State Ossian Smyth has said the HSE will not be providing free PCR tests to unvaccinated people for the purpose of obtaining a digital travel certificate.*

Anyone who is not vaccinated and wants to make a non-essential journey after July 19th will have to get a private laboratory PCR test to get the digital certificate, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.

The HSE’s focus is on public health and on tests to isolate the virus, so they will not be using resources to provide test results for people wishing to travel, he said.

This was not a “nefarious” plot by the Government to dissuade people from travelling, he said.

Mr Smyth said he was confident the travel certificate system will be easy to access and easy to use when it is introduced. There will be three types of cert – proof that one has had Covid; proof that one is fully vaccinated and proof of a negative test result in the previous three days.

However, the Minister cautioned it was not guaranteed the restriction on non-essential travel would be lifted on July 19th. That would depend on the level of cases and the rollout of the vaccination programme, he said.

The digital certificate system had been developed in conjunction with the European Commission and has been tested on HSE staff, he said.

Irish citizens can get the digital cert wherever they have been vaccinated, he said.

Brexit had complicated the situation, but there were ongoing talks about getting the Common Travel area re-established, and the UK was working on a system similar and compatible to the European digital certificate, Mr Smyth said.

The Minister also pointed out a person did not require a PCR test to leave the country but that it could be required to enter another country and would be required on return to Ireland.

There was an element of risk with non-essential travel at present he said, adding there was no guarantee that a person would not “get stuck” if they contracted the virus when abroad.

The Minister also warned there was no guarantee that restrictions on indoor facilities would be eased on July 5th.

He said the Government had been very cautious and it was important to “get the balance right” and the situation was under constant review. Any words of caution (from the medical and scientific communities) about the situation “should be heeded”.

The impact of the recent cyber-attack on the HSE was ongoing, he said with only half of the HSE’s system back online. “It’s a huge job.”

It had been “absolutely devastating” and the focus of the HSE was now to make the system “much safer”, the Minister added.

*This article was amended on June 22nd 2021