Vaccinated people coming to Ireland will not need negative Covid test from midnight

Cabinet approves deal for €90m worth of anti-viral drugs to help fight coronavirus

Vaccinated people arriving into the country from overseas will not have to get a clear Covid-19 test from midnight tonight.

Since early December, when the threat of the Omicron variant emerged, all arriving passengers have needed either a negative PCR test or a negative antigen test, regardless of vaccination status.

However, this requirement is now being removed following Cabinet approval on Wednesday and from tomorrow, the situation that applied before December 6th returns. This means that vaccinated people with a valid Digital Covid Certificate or another valid proof of recent infection or vaccination will not need a test. Unvaccinated people will need a "not detected" PCR test result taken within 72 hours of their arrival into Ireland.

Hospital Report

The measure was applied to slow the arrival of Omicron into the country to the greatest extent possible – with the near total dominance of the variant, it is understood it was no longer seen as valid.

Meanwhile, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said updated Digital Covid Certificates would begin to be issued later this week to those who have received booster vaccines. The European Commission set a nine-month expiry period for the certificates for travel purposes in December, meaning that people will need to get a booster shot to keep their vaccination status valid.

He said on Twitter people could also request via an online portal a certificate of recovery if they have recovered from Covid-19 in the last six months.

Restrictions

Elsewhere, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has said he thinks Ireland can get through the current wave of infection without resorting to further restrictions. While the changeable situation with Covid-19 was such that one could “never say never”, Mr Ryan said the changed behaviour of the population would control the virus.

“I think the measures we introduced just before Christmas are the right ones, the Irish people have been really sensible, people have restricted their movements and their level of socialisation.

“I think it’s the sense and the good intelligence of the Irish people who will get us through this, I don’t think we will need further restrictions,” he said, adding that despite skyrocketing numbers of infections, the level of people requiring critical care has been “relatively steady”.

Speaking on his way into this morning’s Cabinet meeting, Mr Ryan told reporters: “With the numbers being so large there’ll still be a lot of hospital beds taken up, but I don’t expect further restrictions this week and hopefully, if the modelling is correct, we should be close to the peak, numbers start to come down, we will be able to cope,” he said.

Mr Ryan said he believed the health service would be able to “manage” with the current wave of infection.

“It’ll require a lot of flexibility, because a lot of people are out of work … but they have systems in place and have had right through this process that allows them to be flexible and manage”.

Asked about the current requirements for restricted movement on close contacts of confirmed cases, Mr Ryan said it made sense to revisit them, which the Government has asked the National Public Health Emergency Team to do. He also acknowledged that the current rules are very complicated.

“I think it makes sense for us to make it clearer and I think in some of the cases those 10-day restricted movements could be brought down lower and I think it’ll help people manage.”

Anti-viral drugs

Meanwhile, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly received Cabinet approval for a €90 million purchase of anti-viral drugs for Covid-19.

The drugs, manufactured by MSD, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, have shown good effectiveness at reducing the risk of severe illness and hospitalisation among those infected with Covid-19.

The EU is working on a Joint Procurement Agreement in relation to the MSD and Pfizer drugs, while Ireland is already a participant in an identical arrangement for the purchase of the GSK product.

“The HSE, in consultation with the Department of Health, is also exploring opportunities to procure anti-virals through bilateral agreements at national level, in advance of the completion of the relevant EU JPA,” the Department of Health said in a statement.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it would be “some weeks yet,” before the drugs were available, with work under way between the companies, regulators and the EU.

Trials have shown encouraging results, including one with Pfizer’s drug showing good effectiveness against the Omicron variant.

Pfizer said in December that the final analysis of its anti-viral Covid-19 pill still showed near 90 per cent efficacy in preventing hospitalisations and deaths in high-risk patients, and recent lab data suggests the drug retains its effectiveness against the Omicron variant.

Mr Donnelly said in a statement on Wednesday that Covid-19 is “at unprecedented levels in our communities. Our health service is continuing to deal with increasing levels of people requiring care in hospital as a result of Covid-19 infection. This virus continues to pose a significant risk to the functioning of our economy and wider society.”

“That is why, at my request, my department and the HSE are working to progress EU joint procurement for these treatments, as well as bilateral channels. The Government has agreed that funding necessary to support the purchase of these treatments will be provided.”