Government officials raised the possibility of continued constraints on travel with Britain in a private briefing for the travel industry last week on the new digital Covid certificate starting next month.
The industry was seeking clarity from the Government on whether Britain will be opened up to Irish travellers if international travel returns as planned on July 19th.
The spread of the more contagious Delta variant, now the dominant strain of Covid-19 in Britain, makes the reopening of travel between Ireland and Britain more uncertain.
One official “hinting towards health concerns [about travel with Britain] so it doesn’t sound like it has been decided”, said a source who attended last Friday’s briefing with the Department of Taoiseach.
The Government’s reopening plan currently states that from July 19th the State will operate the EU digital Covid certificate subject to the public health situation at the time.
The certificate will allow people to travel freely in the EU showing proof of whether they have been vaccinated, received a negative test result or recently recovered from the disease. People’s status can be checked by scanning a QR code on a smartphone.
The Government currently advises people against all non-essential international travel. The new certificate will run in tandem with existing travel advisories and the EU traffic light system.
The EU is in talks with the UK and the US about mutual recognition of the travel certificate.
The briefing was told there would be slight differences in the operation of the certificate with third-status countries such as the UK or the US, though the travel industry requested that the UK not be included with other third-status countries because of the Common Travel Area.
For the operation of the travel cert, the Department of Health and the HSE provide vaccination and recovery certificates, while the private sector will provide negative Covid-19 test results.
State officials briefed the travel industry that the smartphone app supporting the cert – or a back-up paper system for those without smartphones – would be linked to four accredited laboratories that carry out PCR testing so details of a negative test appears on the app.
There are plans to link the app with registered pharmacists in order to provide approved lab-standard antigen test results which are accepted for travellers entering Spain and Portugal.
A Government spokesman did not answer queries on whether the laboratories or the pharmacies had been chosen yet or whether the contract for this work would go to open tender.
“A confidential briefing was provided to appraise industry on work under way across Government in respect of the introduction of the digital Covid certificate,” he said.
“Work is continuing in preparation for July 19th.”
A public information campaign is due to begin 10 days before travel reopens.
People who have been vaccinated or recently recovered from the virus will be contacted by email from where they can opt to download the app.
While airports have carried out preparations for the operation of the certificate, concerns have been expressed that the ports may not be ready for the operation of the new system and that checking the digital Covid certs for boarding passengers could delay ferry departures.