Travel within the European Union next year will "very likely" require proof of having received a Covid booster vaccine, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.
Outlining the benefits of the third dose at a briefing on renewed Covid restrictions on Friday, Mr Varadkar said travel rules look set to change in line with public health measures.
“At a European level, the digital Covid certificates are going to be reissued in the new year,” he said. “And it’s very likely that in order to travel in the spring and summer you’ll need to have the new digital Covid cert which is the evidence that you’ve been boosted.”
Ireland has now boosted about 1.3 million people, or 25 per cent of adults, and is currently in the top five in Europe and the top 10 in the world for third doses administered.
“If you’re thinking of European travel next spring or summer it would be a good idea to get the third dose,” Mr Varadkar said.
Changes to the digital certificate have already been discussed at European Council level and details are due to be published by the European Commission setting out requirements. Currently, anyone travelling can provide negative PCR tests and it is unclear what changes will be introduced in that regard.
However, Taoiseach Micheál Martin noted some booster-related travel restrictions have already emerged elsewhere and said “we will be moving fairly quickly on that”.
The enhanced measures are part of an ongoing battle against Covid-19 and notably the Omicron variant which has prompted a new suite of social movement restrictions.
The Tánaiste said while the future course of the pandemic, now approaching its second anniversary, is difficult to predict, Ireland is facing into a “long war” that could go on for several more years.
“There may well be a case to say, in this long war, that if it’s possible to have periods of freedom then that might make sense,” he said. “Because there will be other variants and there will be other winters and perhaps in advance of those winters and those variants we should try to have periods of freedom and give people a break.”
As bleak a picture as was presented by Mr Varadkar, Mr Martin and the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan at Friday's briefing, further hope was offered to businesses reeling at the latest round of potentially crippling restrictions at what is normally a peak commercial period.
In his role as Minister for Enterprise, Mr Varadkar said: “We won’t let your businesses fail or be sacrificed.”
An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 people face being laid off in the coming weeks. The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme will be paid at the top rate until at least the end of January to allow for the retention of staff.
Other financial support schemes, such as the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme, are due to be recalibrated over the weekend with announcements expected on Monday.
The unpredictable path of the virus was stressed at the briefing. Dr Holohan again dismissed any false hope in panaceas, saying there had been many promises of silver bullets that had not come to pass.
Global scientific uncertainty, he explained, means there are varying potential scenarios around how the virus might behave.
“If we had these kinds of case numbers that we’ve had over the last couple of months without the protection of vaccines, and more laterally boosters, we would have experienced very significant numbers of deaths,” he said.