The government has moved quickly to refute a story in today’s Irish Independent that holidaymakers who need a a PCR test to travel abroad will be able to get one for free.
The story in today’s Irish Independent says that those looking to go abroad once restrictions are lifted on 19 July will be able to get a free PCR test from the HSE in order to obtain an EU Digital Covid Cert (DCC).
However, Minister of State Ossian Smyth flatly denied this was the case. Speaking this morning (22 June) on Today with Claire Byrne, he said the HSE would not be providing PCR tests for travel purposes and that “test certificates [for travel] must be delivered by a private [state-minded] lab,” for which there will be a cost.
When Claire Byrne put it to him that this was fundamentally unfair as it meant that if you were 40 and vaccinated the DCC would be free but if you were 24 and unvaccinated there would be a cost, he replied: “I think if you’re young and you’re not vaccinated, there are lots of ways that things are worse for you.”
The PCR test requirement is only necessary for those who haven’t been vaccinated or have had Covid in the last 18 months.
The HSE has also denied that this is the case. It responded to a query by ITTN on the subject of free tests for holidaymakers by saying that “testing activity is for public health reasons and we won’t be doing a testing service for those travelling abroad.”
It also confirmed that it wouldn’t be supplying relevant data “directly to members of the public but to whoever will be supplying the travel documentation,” which effectively means that anyone who needs a PCR test for a future holiday will not get one directly through the HSE but will most likely have to get one through a third-party provider, who may or may not charge for the service.
A €100m Test Fund
The issue of who pays for testing has been a controversial one. The WHO recommends that if a state requires PCR tests it should pay for them rather than leave it up to individuals, as the cost can rack up considerably.
During recent negotiations between the European Commission and the European Parliament over the development of the EU Covid Cert, the parliament pushed for testing to be paid for by member states.
The outcome of the negotiations was that on 20 May the European Commission agreed to institute a fund of €100m – with an additional €100m in reserve – to subsidise the costs of Covid testing once the DCC came into use.
It is not yet clear how that fund will be dispersed.
The DCC will be available throughout most of the EU from 1 July, and from 19 July in Ireland.
Testing Capacity Concerns
There were concerns that as international travel opens up there will be a surge in demand for PCR tests amongst those who haven’t been vaccinated or recovered from Covid, especially in younger age groups that will not be vaccinated until later in the summer.
However, the HSE has a testing capacity for for 175,000 weekly tests; according to Irish Independent, 130,000 tests were carried out last week.