Implementation of the EU Digital Covid Certificate: Discussion

Today, we will discuss Ireland's implementation of the EU digital Covid certificate. On behalf of the committee, I welcome Ms Liz Canavan, assistant secretary, Department of the Taoiseach, Mr. Muiris O'Connor, assistant secretary, Department of Health, Ms Maeve Brett, principal officer, Department of Justice, Mr. Phil O'Flaherty, principal officer, Department of Transport, Mr. Damien McCallion, national director and Covid vaccination programme lead, HSE, Mr. Barry Lowry, Government chief information officer, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr. Brendan Rogers, deputy secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs, and Ms Barbara Jones, assistant secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs. I thank them for participating, given that the notice given to them of this meeting was short. The committee has sought to be constructive regarding the EU digital green certificate. Today, we are dealing with the public service side and the implementation team. The Minister of State with responsibility for this matter, Deputy Ossian Smyth, will be before us tomorrow.

Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with such direction. For witnesses who are attending remotely from outside the Leinster House campus, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege. As such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness who is physically present does. Witnesses participating in this committee session from a jurisdiction outside the State are advised that they should also be mindful of their domestic law and how it may apply to the evidence that they give.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind members of the constitutional requirement that they must be physically present within the confines of the place where the Parliament has chosen to sit, namely, Leinster House and-or the Convention Centre Dublin, in order to participate in public meetings. Reluctantly, I will not permit members to participate where they are not adhering to this constitutional requirement. Therefore, any member who attempts to participate from outside the precincts will be asked to leave the meeting. In this regard, I ask members partaking via Microsoft Teams that, prior to making their contributions to the meeting, they confirm that they are on the grounds of the Leinster House campus.

For anyone watching this meeting online, Oireachtas Members and witnesses are accessing this meeting remotely. Only I, as Chair, and the necessary staff essential to the running of the meeting are physically present in the committee room. Due to these unprecedented circumstances and the large number of people attending the meeting remotely, I ask for everyone's forbearance should technical issues arise. The public will be interested in what the witnesses' will say on the up-to-date position on the digital green certificate, particularly with 19 July looming next Monday. I call on Ms Canavan to make her opening statement.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

I thank the committee for its invitation to this meeting to discuss our implementation of the EU digital Covid certificate. I am the chair of the ad hoc subgroup of the senior officials group on Covid-19. The group was established to monitor and update the Government on all operational risks associated with the implementation of the EU digital Covid certificate and the public health risks associated with the easing of restrictions, particularly in light of the progress of the disease and the emergence of variants.

The EU digital Covid certificate regulation entered into application on 1 July. It was developed to facilitate safe free movement of citizens in the EU during the Covid-19 pandemic. The European Commission has built a gateway through which all certificate signatures can be verified across the EU. On 29 June, Ireland joined the gateway. This means that digital Covid certificates issued in Ireland are recognised by authorities in other EU member states and that Ireland can verify digital Covid certificates for travellers arriving from other EU member states and apply the public health rules associated with those certificates.

As a pilot run on 1 July, which was "go live" day for the digital Covid certificate service across Europe, Ireland issued its initial digital Covid certificates, including the necessary digital signature attesting to the fact it was issued by the Irish issuing authority. On the same day, we had a team working at our ports and airports verifying the QR codes of travellers. On 9 July, Ireland published its travel rules, one of only four countries to do so at that stage.

Implementation of the EU digital Covid certificate cuts across a number of Departments and Government agencies. The challenge is that many Departments and agencies are involved in related Covid-19 projects, policy and legislative developments that connect with the implementation of the certificate. The role of the group has been to develop a unified project co-ordinating the respective efforts of colleagues around the system, identify potential risks and gaps, and progress mitigations and alternative solutions to identified gaps and risks.

Thanks to my colleagues right across the Civil Service and the public service, we have made good progress to date on implementing what is a large and complex programme that has required delivery in a tight timeline. On their behalf, I will give the committee a brief overview of the approach being taken.

Our primary focus was to fulfil our EU obligations in a robust and effective way, including operability by 1 July in context of EU compliance and delivery of certificates to eligible members of the public in line with Government’s proposed lifting of restrictions on non-essential travel on 19 July. In doing so, we had to be very mindful of developing the certificate in a way that provides the greatest assurance, in line with data protection, as regards sensitive personal information. A group involving the relevant Departments and agencies, many represented today, have been meeting regularly in plenary session to deliver on the project since the end of May when the Government agreed the group's establishment.

On the generation of certificates, in light of significant pressures on the HSE and particular ICT teams following the cyberattack, the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, OGCIO, has undertaken the certificate generation process on behalf of Government. Digital Covid-19 certificates for vaccination and recovery are being produced by the OGCIO using data provided by the HSE. Vaccination certificates are being pushed out. This approach is enabling us to get certificates to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.

In respect of vaccinated persons, the vaccine certificates are being sent out by email where a verified email address is available. That will mainly be the case for people who registered on the vaccine portal. Where no email address is available, vaccine certificates are being posted out to home addresses. That applies mainly to those who have been vaccinated through GPs. Where there is insufficient contact information to send out a certificate, a call centre will be available from 19 July through which a vaccine certificate can be requested once a person’s identity and eligibility have been verified. As regards persons who have recovered from Covid-19, recovery certificates will also be available upon request through the call centre, subject to verifiable evidence of recovery from a prior infection within the previous 180 days.

An upgraded version of the Covid tracker application will be available shortly. This will allow people to upload a paper or PDF version of their certificate to a wallet on their phone. The Covid tracker application serves as a pandemic response tool and currently carries a number of functions that are independent of each other. It will be possible for people to disable those features and use the tracker solely as a digital wallet to store their digital Covid certificate on their phone, should they wish to do so.

Data to support certification is the purview of the Department of Health and the HSE. The HSE has multiple data sources for vaccine and recovery data including, for example, the vaccine portal, GPs, pharmacies and acute hospital settings. The data quality is varied. Extensive data quality work has been undertaken to ensure sufficient and fully accurate information is available to support both generation and issuing of the certificate to an individual. That work is well advanced and as regards 1.9 million vaccinated persons, this data is available to allow for the generation of these certificates on a push basis.

It was necessary to undertake extensive data validation on the vaccination data as many people did not always provide their full contact details, particularly prior to the public portal. In addition, efforts were made to minimise instances whereby certificates are sent to people who have deceased. Work on data relating to persons who have recovered from Covid-19 is continuing apace. Given the quality of this data and the relatively smaller numbers involved, it has been decided to provide recovery certifications on a pull basis, that is, on request. This will enable us to complete missing data fields, authenticate identify and ensure address and email for issuing of the certificate are accurate and up to date.

I will now discuss the generation of certificates based on a negative or not-detected test. Those certificates will be provided through private operators who meet minimum entry requirements including, for example, the use of tests approved by the European Medicines Agency, EMA, an ID verification process, the use of medical professionals and data entry requirements. An information notice to prospective test providers on accessing the digital service required to generate a digital Covid certificate was published last week. To provide citizens with an EU digital Covid certificate, Covid-19 testing providers of both nucleic acid amplification tests, NAATs, including RT-PCR and rapid antigen, will be provided with access to the EU digital test certificate service, operated by the OGCIO within the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Access to this service will allow test providers to generate EU digital test certificates for all negative or not-detected test results, in line with national and EU regulations. Approved access to the EU digital Covid test certificate service is contingent on test providers being compliant with the relevant national and EU regulations in respect of SARS-CoV-2 testing, associated public health measures and the standards and obligations detailed in the standard operating procedure. Prior to receiving access to the service for test certificate generation, providers are required to review and digitally sign the standard operating procedure and return by email to digitalcovidcerts.business@per.gov.ie.

On the question of services for people who were not vaccinated in Ireland, the EU regulation gives the option to issue vaccination certificates to persons vaccinated elsewhere, with EMA approved vaccines, upon receipt of appropriate proof. The main development focus at the moment is on the delivery of the obligations of the EU regulation in respect of persons who received a vaccination or a test in Ireland. Arrangements for provision of vaccination certificates to persons not vaccinated in Ireland, including Irish passport holders vaccinated in Northern Ireland, will be considered once the initial roll-out is in place. Discussions are ongoing between the European Commission and third countries with a view to facilitating interoperability and mutual recognition of certificates.

It should be noted that the EU digital Covid certificate is not a travel document and the possession of an EU digital Covid certificate will not be a precondition to exercise free movement rights. Therefore, travellers who do not have a digital Covid certificate can provide other verifiable forms of proof of vaccination or a valid negative test.

I will move on to the passenger locator form. Passengers entering Ireland must fill in the Covid-19 passenger locator form before they arrive in Ireland. Failure to do so is an offence. The Covid-19 passenger locator form is now an online form. As of 12 July, carriers are obliged to check for a completed electronic passenger locator form before allowing passengers to board or embark. Through enhancements to the electronic passenger locator form, which are currently under development, travellers will be required to make a statutory declaration as to their travel status, that is, whether they are vaccinated, recovered or in possession of a negative or not-detected test and form of proof. This determines what other public health advice, quarantine or testing measures will be applicable to the passenger, depending on what country they are arriving from.

Once operational, the enhanced electronic passenger locator form receipt will identify those who have a certificate of an EMA-approved vaccination or recovery or negative PCR test or who are otherwise exempt from the requirement to have such a test. For those travelling on a vaccine or recovery certificate, no further pre-departure checks are required by carriers. Passengers travelling on a negative PCR test will be required to provide proof to the carrier of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival or will be denied boarding. Passengers arriving from designated states who have pre-booked a place in mandatory hotel quarantine will be met at the aircraft and escorted separately from other passengers through the airport building for check-in as required. Currently children aged six and under do not need to take a PCR test prior to travelling to Ireland. The age limit is currently being reviewed.

A verifier application has been developed to support checks of the digital Covid certificate, which allows a mobile device, for example, a phone, to scan the QR code on the certificate in either paper or electronic form. The border management unit and An Garda Síochána will conduct spot checks of public health documentation, including the digital Covid certificate, at ports of entry to the State for the purpose of ensuring the integrity of the enhanced public health travel regime. The verifier application for checking the digital Covid certificate is available to the carriers, should they wish to avail of it.

It is acknowledged that there is considerable complexity associated with travel at the moment given the impact of Covid-19 worldwide. Part of the work of the group has been to provide a unified source of information for the public. There is comprehensive information on both the digital Covid certificate and international travel in general on gov.ie/travel and https://www.dfa.ie/travel/travel-advice/. Both web pages will be kept up to date with all the latest information.

A digital Covid certificate call centre is being established to take calls, provide support and resolve queries for citizens who have been vaccinated and received certificates. It will also resolve issues for those citizens who require a certificate but have not yet received one or are requesting recovery certificates, having recovered from Covid. The contact centre has been created at exceptional pace to manage the required workflows and communications, while meeting all data protection requirements. This has required an incredible effort across multiple Government agencies to put in place the people, processes and technology required. An interim emergency line will be operational from today. We are prioritising queries for people who are travelling in the near future and have received their certificate and may have queries on that certificate. A fully capable centre will be available from Monday, 19 July. This line will be focused on dealing with urgent queries only over the coming days and, therefore, we are requesting that only those with an urgent query contact the centre this week.

The service will be ramped up significantly between now and 19 July, when a full call centre service will be available. Meanwhile, travellers can access the most up-to-date information through gov.ie/travel.

Data protection has been the subject of ongoing engagement with the Data Protection Commission to ensure the process is fully compliant with GDPR regulations. The requisite data controller and data processing agreements are in place for any data transfers in respect of the generation of the certificate. All other requisite processor and sub-processor agreements will be in place prior to any further transfer of data.

On the position as of today, 160,000 paper vaccination certificates were posted yesterday and are due to arrive in homes today. Approximately 1 million emails will issue between yesterday and tomorrow. Altogether, it is anticipated that more than 1.8 million certificates will have been delivered by 19 July. The certificates are generated based on available information and there may be circumstances where information needs to be updated on certificates. This can be done through the call centre. A small number of private operators have already signed up to provide certificates and further information on relevant providers will be made available in due course.

Work is continuing on making the necessary enhancements to the electronic passenger locator form for 19 July. The Department of Transport has been engaging with carriers on their role as part of the verification process and to update them more generally on progress on the implementation of the digital Covid certificate and enhanced electronic passenger locator form.

In summary, progress is continuing apace on the implementation of the EU digital Covid certificate. The challenges involved should not be underestimated but from the technological developments that were required to be stood up at pace, data governance arrangements and scaling up of all operational matters throughout the end-to-end solution, we are on track for the system to be operational for the reopening of non-essential travel on 19 July. I thank all my colleagues for their work to date.

I thank Ms Canavan for that very comprehensive statement. We also thank RTÉ, whose news channel is covering the proceedings live because it is of such importance to every person living in Ireland as to how the digital Covid certificate will be rolled out and work in practice. We will now proceed to members' questions and there are people in a group to deal with all the queries. Deputy O'Rourke will be first and we should be conscious of time because so many Deputies are looking to contribute.

I thank Ms Canavan for a comprehensive update and opening statement. I will speak to the digital Covid certificate and its platform. I was interested to hear her point on the tracker app. Before I heard this, I felt this was called a certificate but seemed to refer to a number of almost unrelated elements, whether it is the proof of vaccination or recovery or the result of a PCR or antigen test. Ms Canavan is saying the Covid-19 tracker app could be used essentially as a wallet or a single platform. When will that be in place or up and running?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

The digital Covid certificate contains those three elements and generates a QR code. Regardless of which type of certificate a person has, it is a single type of QR code. We are very close on the app and we hope to have that functionality available in the coming days.

Mr. Barry Lowry

The tracker app, as a technical product, is ready but we need to go through a due diligence process. That started yesterday with a presentation to the governance committee over the tracker app. The Department of Health has been liaising with the Data Protection Commission throughout the week and if we get the green light, the app can be made available from next Monday. It is the major launch date for all this technology and the certificate itself.

I thank the witnesses for clarifying the point, particularly that the certificate may include an antigen or PCR test but that a specific QR code is generated. We have many queries about people who have been vaccinated in the North and Irish citizens who were vaccinated abroad, such as in the United States, Britain or outside the EU. Ms Canavan has said that bringing them into the certificate system will be considered once initial roll-out happens. When is it foreseen that this will happen or what sort of timeframe are we talking about? Is it a matter of weeks or months or when might we expect to see it?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

The EU is looking at this and we would like to have interoperability. I do not have an update on its exact thinking now but we would all be interested in having that system available. The Deputy is asking about our next iteration but we have been extremely focused on 19 July and getting those certificates out to everybody on which we have data. One of our next tasks is to look at the next piece but we are also hoping there would be developments at international level. Perhaps Mr. O'Connor from the Department of Health has something to add.

Mr. Muiris O'Connor

Ms Canavan is correct that the initial emphasis is on the 1.9 million certificates arising from vaccinations in Ireland. After 19 July we will move immediately to facilitate the recognition of vaccinations that took place in other jurisdictions. I anticipate that with other EU countries, it may be possible to ingest the QR code, as Mr. Lowry explained, into the Covid-19 tracker app when the wallet facility is developed. We have been liaising for a while in the context of the common travel area on the certification of vaccinations across Northern Ireland and the UK. We envisage this could be achieved in the fortnight beyond 19 July.

I have a question on the quality of information, which Ms Canavan mentioned a number of times. I have heard some concerns from people that the HSE had a particular first name for a person, for example, or a name in Irish but it is different on a passport. Will that be an issue for people or would such problems be resolved in the generation of the QR code?

There are efforts to generate QR codes based on the information provided and clear figures have been given on how the certificates will be sent, with 160,000 to be sent by post and 1 million by email. The Tánaiste has said that most people who want a digital Covid certificate by 19 July will have it but how close to 100% will we get? Will we reach 80% or 90%? Is there a figure in mind?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

We are anticipating that some people might have a different name on a passport or something like that. Our focus with the emergency line is for people travelling very urgently who are worried about the certificate they received, including if there is an inaccuracy on it. We are trying to prioritise those people travelling very soon. We are thinking there may be a small number of issues like that or if a person has moved, for example, and not received a certificate. We are anticipating such matters that may arise.

Mr. McCallion might speak to the data quality clean-up we have been working on because there are many different sources. On the numbers, we are full on in trying to get the 1.9 million certificates for which we have given data. It will be very close to the wire and we may run past 19 July. Our intention is to try to get those as close as possible to 19 July so we can get to everybody. We must bear in mind that this is what we might call the backlog, for want of a better word. Every day people will become eligible and we must catch up with that group as well.

Mr. Damien McCallion

As Ms Canavan has stated, there are currently just over 2 million people fully vaccinated so we are in the high 90s when it comes to the data for certificates. There will be an ongoing process to deal with the people vaccinated every day.

On the data, matters have cropped up such as people changing addresses, including email addresses, or emails bouncing back. Names may be different on passports or addresses could be incomplete.

The call centre will sweep those up then and try to turn them around. There will have to be some verification of name changes or date of birth changes. Those are issues that come up. Particularly in the early stages of the programme and prior to the public portal, there would have been minimal information held on healthcare workers for example. As Beaumont Hospital, for example, might be the address, we contacted our health service providers and all of our facilities so that they had arrangements in place to distribute those as quickly as possible as they arrived. There will be issues during that period but as Ms Canavan has said, the call centre will be one mechanism to tackle that. Good communication with the various other stakeholders will also assist in that.

I will move to my questions. I want to get clarity on a point from Ms Canavan. The Department expects the app to be up and running by 19 July. Is that correct?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

The app will provide the wallet. All going well, as Mr. Lowry has outlined, that will be in play by next week but one does not need the app and the wallet. One can use paper or the QR code on a phone. The wallet is not needed but we hope to have that facility as well by next week.

Some 160,000 people who were vaccinated at a vaccination centre might have received the email today and printed it out or received the letter in the post. Can we take it then that they can take that physical piece of paper and travel abroad with that?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

Absolutely.

Are there any complications with other countries?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

No. The QR code would be read. The the EU system is such that it can recognise our QR code and there is no problem using the paper version.

Is the Department still aiming to have the app up and running by 19 July?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

We are but that is just from a convenience point of view for people. People might be worried about losing the piece of paper or if they only got it by post or whatever. It is convenient but we are hoping to have it up by 19 July.

When does Ms Canavan expect would be the latest date that the app would be up and running? We know everyone is digitally driven now and that provides a degree of security. When does Ms Canavan expect that to be and what would be the latest date? The intention is to have it up and running by 19 July.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

I will let Mr. O'Connor from the Department of Health come in on that.

Mr. Muiris O'Connor

On the app and the digital wallet facility being added, as we are aiming for it to be ready in the week of 19 July, the date of 19 July itself is the earliest point it would be ready. We are confident that by the end of that working week, an upgrade will be available for anyone who has the app or that anyone who downloads the app then will have the new features. It is the week of 19 July. I am sorry we cannot commit to 19 July but that is what we are aiming for.

Are we looking at an earliest date of 19 July, which is next Monday, and a latest date of Friday, which would be 24 July?

Mr. Muiris O'Connor

All going well.

I also want to ask Ms Canavan about the issue with the common travel area and the UK. There are issues that the public will be aware of around the Delta variant. Will the common travel area be treated any differently to the EU? We also are getting a lot of queries from countries such as the US and Australia as we have a lot of Irish people living there. Can Ms Canavan elaborate on the common travel area? Will the exact same process apply? If someone in Ireland has a Covid certificate or if someone in the UK has his or her own Covid certificate, how will the process work in the common travel area? Ms Canavan might then elaborate on the situation outside of the EU and worldwide, including the US, Canada and the likes of Australia, New Zealand and other countries that are not in the EU.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

We have information available on gov.ie on the arrangements that are planned for 19 July and that is based on the current Government policy. That talks about EU and non-EU arrangements. The public health advice that underpins that is under constant review. Along with our public health colleagues, we are always looking at the developments with the progression of the disease and the variants, as is everyone across the world. As the Chairman knows, the Delta variant is now the dominant variant in Ireland. It is a different situation to when we were first looking at this policy. The Delta variant was in low numbers here at that time, although it was the dominant variant in the UK.

From 19 July, we will broadly align ourselves to the EU approach to non-essential travel into the EU from third countries. We will be talking about a scenario where there might be an emergency break or where there is no emergency break. The EU proposal is that there would be a system whereby it would designate certain countries as having an emergency break. If there is no emergency break applied to a country and if a person has valid proof of vaccination, the current Government policy is that no travel related testing or quarantine will be necessary and if a person does not have a valid proof of vaccination he or she will need to present evidence of a negative PCR test within 72 hours prior to arrival into the country. They would have to self-quarantine and they will undergo post-arrival testing. If it is a country that the emergency break applies in and if the person has valid proof of vaccination, he or she will need to produce a negative result from a PCR test taken no more than 72-----

The public looking in will want certain questions answered. The digital Covid certificate will prove that a person either has a vaccination, has recovered from Covid within the previous six months, or has a negative PCR test taken 70 hours prior to arrival. That is within the EU. Does the exact same situation apply in respect of the UK from 19 July?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

As the Chairman knows, there are specific arrangements in place at present in relation to the UK which related to the prevalence of the UK variant. That is being reviewed by the public health authorities. I cannot say precisely what will happen on 19 July at this juncture. I am not sure if my colleague in the Department of Health, Mr. O'Connor, can add anything to that. Specific arrangements were put in place for travel from the UK in the context of the Delta variant. All of that is being reviewed.

Ms Canavan will appreciate that there is speculation and media commentary that the common travel area with the UK will be treated in the exact same way as with the EU common travel area with the Covid certificate after 19 July. Ms Canavan is saying something slightly different here so we need clarification on that area. Can Mr. O'Connor give us that clarification?

Mr. Muiris O'Connor

I cannot provide clarification on that. Ms Canavan is correct that the policy is to be determined and that the enhanced restrictions in place for the UK arise in the context of the Delta variant. A lot of work is done to provide updated assessments on the implications of the Delta variant in the international context. Decisions will be taken on that basis. At a technical level, there is-----

Before Mr. O'Connor goes there, I want to ask who will make the decision and when that decision will be made?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

To be clear, there will be no travel-related testing or quarantine necessary for anyone travelling from the UK who has a valid proof of vaccination from 19 July.

That is the current Government policy.

Anyone who is fully vaccinated from 19 July will be able to come to Ireland without having to quarantine.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

That is the current Government policy.

What about someone who has recovered from Covid in the previous six months or someone with a negative PCR test coming from the UK after 19 July? Has that been clarified? Who will make that decision and when will it be made?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

That has not been fully clarified at this stage, in terms of what the verifiable proofs for that. It is a matter for Government. The Government will make that decision.

Okay. That is a matter we will be taking up with the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, tomorrow as it is critical that point is properly clarified.

Lastly, with respect to the US, Australia, New Zealand and non-EU countries of that type, what will be the situation post 19 July?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

Similarly, with a valid proof of vaccination, there will be no travel-related testing or quarantine. That is current policy.

What of people who have recovered from Covid in the previous six months and the requirement for a negative PCR test 72 hours prior to arrival? Is that yet to be decided upon for those countries?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

That has to be further clarified and will be further clarified.

I thank Ms Canavan. We will move back to Senator Dooley.

I apologise as I have had some technical difficulties down in the Convention Centre. I had to log out and back in and I lost some of it.

To follow up on the UK situation, I have heard what the Chairman asked and Ms Canavan might let us know what the situation is with minors or those under 18 years of age who would not be vaccinated and are coming from the UK. There is obviously much toing and froing between the UK and here. Ms Canavan has identified what the current Government policy is in a situation where the adults or parents are vaccinated. What is the current Government policy in relation to their children?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

As I said, at the moment children under the age of six years are not required to have a test and children over that age are but we are currently reviewing that. We will probably look to align with the European guidance on this but that decision has not been made on that.

Okay. At the moment individuals aged between six and 18 years must have had a negative PCR test. Will there be a five-day quarantining requirement as well until they get a second negative PCR test?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

It is the same rule as for adults, yes.

Okay. That is obviously something we must highlight Chairman because if their children must be quarantined for a number of days, it will have a very significant impact on families travelling from the UK.

These are matters we will take up with the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, tomorrow.

Yes. I thank Ms Canavan. I know it falls outside her remit in terms of policy.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

Yes, but just to be clear, all of that is being reviewed at the moment. I assure the committee of that.

I thank Ms Canavan. I may have missed some of the discussion on this when I had to reboot the system here, but Ms Canavan talked about getting out the certificates through An Post and by email and there being about 1 million in each bundle. Was that all happening on one particular day? Have all the emails been circulated or are they being done in tranches? Is there a finish date for that? I have had a couple of emails already this morning as news reports yesterday suggested they were going out overnight. People who have holidays booked for 19 July and were leaving were concerned they had not seen an email overnight. Can Ms Canavan give us some window as to when those concerned should start worrying?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

We are asking people not to worry just yet. The first batch of post I mentioned, with 160,000 certificates, went out yesterday and should be in letterboxes this morning. It is literally a logistical question of how many we can print to get in the post for next-day delivery. Our colleagues in Revenue are supporting us in that to get us through the backlog. On the emails, I will hand over to my colleague Mr. Lowry who is handling that.

Just before Ms Canavan does I might add that I have postmen within my general sphere of friends who would not have wanted 1 million letters showing up on the first day so I can understand the necessity of staging this.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

They go in batches, yes.

Mr. Barry Lowry

I thank the Senator for his question. I will clarify the printing situation first of all. We are very much governed, obviously, by the sheer weight of printing required. Revenue is currently working on a time slot of 70,000 to 90,000 per day. Revenue has other printing commitments. It stepped in at the eleventh hour to help with this so it just depends on what other work is on. The 160,000 Ms Canavan referred to was the work of Saturday and Sunday. The hours have been extended to give the maximum throughput so as many people as possible can get their certificate if they need it posted by 19 July or very shortly thereafter.

The approach we took to email is slightly different. We are using the Amazon Web Services, AWS, fast email relay service but because of concerns about spam there is a need to choke the output, as we call it. In other words it is done in a very measured way. Last night we sent out the first 12,000 and we carefully checked everything worked. Then this morning we started ramping up. By close of play today, all being well, we will have sent out 750,000 and then overnight we will send out the remainder. Thus by around lunchtime tomorrow we should have 1 million emails sent. I should add we are expecting about 1% of the those emails to fail and bounce back simply because the person did not put in the right email address when they registered through the portal or he or she has changed his or her email address since then. We then need to collect those emails and review them. We are looking at a process about how we can ensure that where that fails, the person knows about it and we can fix that.

For those who have a wrong email address or made a mistake on it, would they have received an email in the process of their vaccination in the first instance or is this the first time they would be getting a communication?

Mr. Barry Lowry

Mr. McCallion can correct me if I am wrong but I think what happened for people who registered through the portal was they were contacted by short message service, SMS, not email. Mr. McCallion can confirm that. Thus we did not actually go through a process of validating their emails as part of enabling them to apply for their vaccine. As I said, so far in the tests we are getting 99% success so it is really about ensuring we can let people who made a mistake in entering their email know, get the correct one and resolve that.

I assume the phone system the officials are establishing for people who have not had an email by Wednesday or Thursday would be the appropriate route for them to communicate to the back office.

Mr. Barry Lowry

We have not definitively decided that yet, only because the main purpose of the phone service is to deal with emergencies and some of these people might not be emergencies. We will put those in a queue and they will be reviewed. It may well be that we post them out if we have got the person's postal address or it may well be we will contact him or her in due course, get his or her email address and ensure their certificate is sent out him or her.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

One point worth making is people expecting a certificate by email should check their spam folders because the other possibility is that it might be treated as spam. Mr. Lowry may confirm that.

Mr. Barry Lowry

It is, yes. With my own personal email, if a message is not from a known sender and it has an attachment it always goes in the spam first.

That would not be a great system for us, on our end. We should thank the Revenue Commissioners for the work they are providing. I am minded to consider it will be the first in a long time when a 1 million-odd people will be delighted to see a letter coming from the Revenue. I thank the Chairman.

We move to a Sinn Féin slot and Deputy Ó Murchú.

I thank Ms Canavan and all our guests. As I was listening, I was busily checking my email, my spam folders and everything else.

Like many people, I imagine I am using the email that I use for signing up to races, GoFundMe, or Facebook, so it is basically a spam email anyway.

The Deputy is too young to be vaccinated.

I am half vaccinated. There is a perfect breeding ground for the Delta variant at the moment. What is the email going to say and what will be in the subject line to make it easy for people to do a quick check?

Mr. Barry Lowry

It is a "Do not reply" email from the Department of Health, which is a standard approach. There is a cover letter with the email, which explains what it is about, that it is from the Department of Health, the process and how people can go about getting issues resolved. It is straightforward. The message to the public is that if it does not come from the Department of Health, it is not from us on this occasion.

I thank Mr. Lowry. I know it is a simple question but that could probably allay certain fears, including my own.

What interaction is there with the Data Protection Commissioner and are there any difficulties with GDPR? Regarding the verifier application that will be used by airlines and such, given the conversation that is happening about the reopening of society, has there been discussion of that eventually becoming something that will be given out to people operating in hospitality to check digital Covid certificates, especially when antigen testing or some such facility is put in place?

Mr. Barry Lowry

We met with the Department of Health and HSE about GDPR. We met the Data Protection Commissioner several weeks ago and we have had regular meetings since. The Department of Health and HSE act as joint controllers of the data. They only transfer the data relevant to the certificate. The delivery partners, which produce the certificates, only produce the data that are relevant to the certificate. We do not see anyone's health record or anything else. That is all securely managed by the Department of Health. We have signed a processing agreement with the HSE and Department. Revenue and our other partners, NearForm, have signed sub-processing agreements with us. Everything is in compliance with GDPR and the way the forms and so on are done is transparent. Only the data that are needed are accessed in the whole process and they are not retained beyond 72 hours. It is needed at that point in case there are any inquiries. After that, it is deleted, which is entirely compliant with GDPR.

The witnesses do not foresee any major difficulties with the Covid tracker application or due diligence.

Mr. Barry Lowry

No. I should emphasise that we built the Covid tracker application to be a decentralised solution. The Government does not know what someone is doing with his or her certificate. As Ms Canavan said earlier, downloading a certificate to the Covid tracker application is just a matter of convenience. We all know that people will download their boarding passes onto their phones, for example. It is something that people like to do. When they choose to do that, Government does not know that they have done it and it does not track what airports they have used it at or anything else. It is entirely decentralised. As Ms Canavan said earlier, it is entirely by choice. One does not have to switch on all the elements in the application to use the certificate. If one only wants to use that part, that is fine.

I am not overly concerned about it. I am just worried about whether it impacts on the witnesses operationally.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

I ask Mr. O'Connor to say more about the other processors that we will use as we move to the full call centre next week.

Mr. Muiris O'Connor

I thank Ms Canavan and Mr. Lowry for covering the data protection elements. The legal basis for the EU digital Covid certificate is in the regulation. Much attention was paid to building in privacy in design at the EU level as well as at the national level. We have all the data controller and data processing agreements which, as Mr. Lowry said, are sufficient to support the certificate generation, which is under way. We are now looking to the data processing arrangements that are needed to extend and develop the call centre that will be available. That work is keeping pace with the operational roll-out.

I thank Mr. O'Connor. Will the witnesses address the verifier application?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

I ask my colleague, Ms Brett, to speak about the verifier application.

Ms Maeve Brett

The Department of Justice has supported the Department of Health in the development of the digital Covid certificate verifier application. That application has been set up for verification of the document for the purpose of international travel. Any change in the scope or use of the application would require policy and legal considerations.

That is succinct and straight to the point. I thank Ms Brett.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

The detail of the emerging proposals on the hospitality sector were only considered by Government yesterday. There will be some practical issues regarding the digital Covid certificate that was developed for these purposes being used for other, wider purposes. Additional work will be brought forward by the two Departments. I understand that Departments, at official level, are briefing Opposition Deputies this morning and will meet with the hospitality sector this afternoon to address how this might be rolled out practically.

Regarding the generation of certificates based on negative tests, the Department gives a document out to some of these companies and they have to work to the specification. What interaction is involved? How easy will this be? Did the witnesses foresee any operational issues with these companies being able to upload data to the Department to produce a digital Covid certificate?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

Mr. Lowry has been leading that work so I will hand over to him again.

Mr. Barry Lowry

I thank the Deputy for the question. Looking at where we have been heretofore, when people go for a test, if it was positive up until now, there has been an obligation to inform Government that someone tested positive so that we could take that forward to our contact tracing system. If it was negative, Government had no interest in knowing that someone went for a test. The process was designed to keep Government blind to the testing process for the purposes of GDPR. We wanted to honour that as much as we could when we developed the digital Covid certificate for testing. The testing companies still own the process and the compliance with GDPR. Government acts as a sub-processor. We have created an API. Once we know that the tester is valid, we take it through a short training process so that it understands how the technology works. Testers simply upload the data to the OGCIO and we send them back the certificate. They then contact the person who was tested and provide him or her with the certificate. We are completely blind as to who is being tested and who wants a certificate for a specific purpose.

That is brilliant. When will this be right for the road?

Mr. Barry Lowry

The Department of Health opened the standard operation procedure, SOP, application process. It is a statement of operating procedures. The Department of Health needs a reassurance that people who are offering tests are valid organisations and not somebody trying to set up in his or her garage with a laptop and an illegal testing set. It instructs OGCIO that an organisation can be given access to our API. We then take the organisation through the process to make sure that it understands how to use it properly. That process has some basic security in it because people who would like to attack State infrastructure would be interested in this process, so we needed a certain degree of security and we take organisations through how that security works.

The Deputy should conclude his questioning.

I will. This is a significant issue, particularly for those who have been tested or vaccinated in the North. I did not hear Mr. O'Connor's earlier answer as the connection was not great. What is the timeline with regard to giving people who were vaccinated in other parts of the EU, Britain or the North a digital Covid certificate on that basis? I get that the current priority is those who were vaccinated in the South.

Mr. Muiris O'Connor

We have not looked into it. It is anticipated that it will be in place approximately a fortnight after 19 July but we are taking things 100% at a time and the focus is on the 1.9 million people vaccinated in this jurisdiction in advance of 19 July.

I ask that it be considered as soon as possible. A fortnight after 19 July sounds-----

Mr. Muiris O'Connor

As Ms Canavan stated, before we can provide it on a digital basis, the intention and Government policy is that fully vaccinated people from other jurisdictions who are not in a red category or on an emergency break will have full access to Ireland on an uninhibited basis.

I wish to clarify one point. Is the digital Covid certificate app a new app or is the certificate being incorporated into the existing Covid app that is available to the public?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

It will be part of the existing Covid app that is available to download, as I understand it, on the App Store. Many people have downloaded it. It was part of the track and trace infrastructure. Our intention is that a user can switch off all the functionality of the app except the wallet part of it, and store his or her certificate there. It is the same app.

It is the existing Covid app that the public have. I thank Ms Canavan.

I thank Ms Canavan and the rest of the team for what has been an important discussion on this matter.

I have received several queries from Irish people who will be on holidays, possibly elsewhere in the EU, prior to 19 July. They are concerned about accessing the certificate. If one receives an email with the certificate, that is okay, but those who were vaccinated in a GP's surgery will receive the certificate in the post. What would Ms Canavan advise people to do if they are abroad, will return to Ireland after 19 July and do not have access to the paper-based certificate?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

People should certainly check their email if they were vaccinated at a mass vaccination centre. There is a good chance they will have received the certificate via email. If the certificate landed by post, we suggest to people in advance of 19 July to use their vaccination card as proof that they are fully vaccinated. To be clear, as I set out in my opening statement, the digital Covid certificate is not a requirement for travel. People do not need to worry about being able to travel, as such. They need to complete the European passenger locator form, EPLF, but the certificate is not a requirement for travel. Does Mr. O'Connor wish to comment further on this issue?

Mr. Muiris O'Connor

Ms Canavan has covered most of the points. If a paper certificate lands in a person's home in the coming week while they are abroad, another option would be for a family member at home to photograph the certificate and send it to the person. The QR code stores the information and it transfers via photocopy, print or photograph. The Covid tracker app will be in place in the week of 19 July. It too could ingest a photograph of the certificate. There are ways around the problem outlined by the Deputy; it is not insurmountable.

To return to the issue of generating a certificate by means of getting a negative test, will antigen tests be an acceptable format of tests in Ireland?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

To be clear, we need to distinguish between what the digital Covid certificate will allow for and what it can involve, which are separate from the public health policy of any individual country. The digital Covid certificate will, in line with the EU, allow for PCR testing and antigen testing because the requirement for some countries is antigen testing. However, the current Government policy with regard to entry to this country is for PCR testing.

That is perfect. If someone is going to Spain or Portugal or wherever and that country accepts antigen testing, when he or she is departing an antigen test will suffice but when he or she is returning to Ireland, he or she will need to take a PCR test.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

Yes.

As regards the helplines associated with the certificate, our guests stated that they expect that at least 1% will bounce back. How many people are there in the call centres? What logistical arrangements have been put in place? How many staff will be involved? Which Department will operate the helpline? Will it be under the Department of Health? The Revenue was mentioned. Which Department will take the lead in that regard?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

In advance of 19 July, we are going to stand up what we are referring to as our emergency helpline, which will be staffed by colleagues from the Department of Social Protection and Revenue who will help us with that. It will only be able to deal with a limited number of queries. As I stated, our focus will be on the people who got a certificate and are travelling urgently but have an issue or query relating to the certificate. That will be our focus. From 19 July, the fully capable call centre will be stood up. That is being provided by a private provider and the Department of Health will hold that contract. I do not know if Mr. O'Connor wishes to add to that.

Mr. Muiris O'Connor

I do not. Thank you.

What type of impact did the cyberattack on the HSE have on the preparations to deliver this programme? Obviously, it must have had an impact. Our guests have used systems to bypass that impact and I commend them on that. I ask them to take us through what had to be done to navigate that difficulty.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

All the heavy lifting in that regard was done by Mr. McCallion and his colleagues. I ask him to briefly outline what we have tried to do.

Mr. Damien McCallion

The Deputy will be aware of the wider impact of the cyberattack on the health and social care system in terms of all of our systems, so I will not get into that. We managed to sustain the vaccination and testing and tracing systems. We had many issues relating to logistics and operations, which had to be done manually during that period. There were some issues relating to GP data, GP referrals and so on. One of the biggest impacts was on the staff. They were operating 24-7, essentially trying to build a vaccination system as we ran out a programme at pace. As a result of the cyberattack, they have now been sucked into that. As Ms Canavan noted in her opening statement, Mr. Lowry and his team at the OGCIO stepped in to support the wider development of the technology to implement this. One of the key impacts related to some of the resources. Those teams were already fully stretched with testing and tracing and vaccination systems and then had to deal with the cyber attack. They have been working almost every weekend. Members will be aware that pharmacies are now on board in the context of a new opt-in model within the vaccination programme. To illustrate the efforts of the staff, I point to the fact that last weekend they performed a major upgrade on the vaccination system to allow the pharmacy data to be brought in live, while also working with Mr. Lowry and the team to get the data transferred. Those are some of the key impacts on the resourcing side and expertise, but also in terms of some of the practical areas I mentioned earlier relating to systems that just were not accessible and for which we did not have data for a considerable period after the cyberattack, with GP data being the primary example.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

It is probably worth stating that notwithstanding that we have done our best to wrap ourselves around the staff of Mr. McCallion, there has been significant work in the data clean-up and the expertise and know-how locally in terms of managing everything and, indeed, our concerns relating to data protection being ensured.

It is not that they have had all of the load lifted from them, but we have tried to wrap around it as best we can.

I thank Ms Canavan and her team very much.

When the 160,000 certificates are issued to the people by post today and the 1 million over yesterday, today and tomorrow, are those certificates issued two weeks after the recommended period after which one has the full effect of the vaccine? Are they issued when one gets the second vaccine, or with the Janssen vaccine when one has received the first vaccine or are they issued in the two-week period afterwards, which is the recommended period under the public health advice when the full protection of the vaccine takes effect? What is and will the process be there in the issue dates because going forward, as we are talking about 25,000 people per day getting their second vaccine, can clarification be given on that point, please?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

The information is being released to the OGCIO for certificate generation once a second vaccine has been received but the date of the receipt of that vaccine will be contained on the certificate. People will know from the public health advice that one is not fully vaccinated per se until post whatever the requisite period pertaining to whatever vaccine the person has received is, which can be one week or two weeks. We will allow the data to be transferred once a second vaccine has been administered and I confirm that that is the position.

Does that mean, technically, Ms Canavan that someone who receives a certificate may receive it a few days after they have had the second dose prior to the end of the two-week recommended period and that they could travel on a digital Covid-19 certificate prior to the recommended two-week period having elapsed? Do the authorities not consider delaying this process in the issuing of the certificate until two weeks after the receipt of the second or first vaccine has been given?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

In the majority of records that we have transferred at the moment, that period has probably passed already. That is a functionality that we have not built in yet. I am not aware if Mr. McCallion wishes to say some more on this point.

Mr. Damien McCallion

I will only add one thing to what Ms Canavan has been saying in that this is a record of the event that one has had one’s second vaccination and while that is currently 14 days it is possible that that advice could change in the future. This is clearly a record of the event at that time and that is why the certificate is produced on the date of the actual event of the second vaccination.

We will now move back to the Fianna Fáil group and to Senator Horkan who has six minutes.

As we are having technical difficulties in the convention centre today I will move now to the Green Party and I call on Deputy Matthews to speak and he has six minutes.

I thank the Chairman and all of the witnesses for their attendance here this morning. I am aware that this is a hectic and busy time for them and we very much appreciate them giving up their time to come in and explain this to us because it is critical that we get this right. Mr. McCallion covered many of the points I wanted to make about the Civil Service in general and the public service we have, the workload that they have been under for the past 18 months, and the way that they have turned things around in terms of supports and everything that has been addressed. Much of the time we do not give enough credit for the workload that has been undertaken across the Departments with cyberattacks and everything else thrown into the mix. I thank them for that.

A helpline will be critical in the first couple of days and week of this and while the Department has probably taken this into account, I ask that this might be very well resourced and operating from 6 a.m. until midnight and not a nine-to-five type of thing. I can see Ms Canavan throwing her eyes to heaven at this suggestion. I have just complimented the staff and I am now putting them under more pressure. Such a helpline is going to be critical as I foresee hiccups along the way with all those sort of things like wrong email addresses, spam, where my number or letter is, etc.

I have question about a family who were vaccinated in the US and who have subsequently moved back to Wicklow. What exactly do they need to provide by way of proof to get their digital certificate? We need to be very clear on that. That covers my questions and I thank our guest witnesses for their time again.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

I thank the Deputy for his question and for his kind remarks and I have to say that much of the heavy lifting is done outside of my particular Department. I very much want to commend colleagues, as this has been a fairly stunning performance which I also want to clearly state.

As to the call centre, for the moment we have tried to provide and base the full call centre for 19 July on what we understand to be the proportion of people who are planning to travel and on booking information in that regard. We have some made some calculations as to what the level of demand might be but we will obviously have to keep that under review and we are aware of that.

I do not have the helpline times off the top of my head. It is not from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but it is not 6 a.m. to midnight either and is somewhere in the middle, if memory serves me correctly. We are also looking at trying to have some surge capacity particularly in the first number of weeks of this to try to capture that. We will have to respond when we see how things are actually panning out. We want to be able to provide people with a level of reassurance. We are also going to greatly encourage people to look at the website, which we will be continuously updating with information in real-time based on the calls that we are getting to ensure that we get as much information out there as possible. We anticipate that much of the information that people need can actually be dealt with on the website.

In the very short term, in respect of the emergency phone line, we are really focusing on requests where we expect people to be ringing up looking for their certificates. They will only be receiving assurances at this stage that the certificates are en route. We will check for urgency and we will log urgent requests but we will not be able to process any requests or offer to cover them until 19 July when the full call centre will be up and running. We will try to capture errors on certificates and any calls that require resolution that we cannot resolve until the full call centre is set up will be held, processed, logged and ready for processing on 19 July. We ask people to have patience over the next number of days so that they are not ringing up and clogging up that line for people who may have urgent travel requirements.

On the US and proofs, we covered a little bit of this ground earlier. There are variations in what people are bringing in from the US but for the purposes, for example, of mandatory hotel quarantine and certain proofs of vaccinated persons have been accepted. I am not certain if Mr O’Connor can add much more information to this question at this stage.

Mr. Muiris O'Connor

On the helpline issue, I echo and repeat Ms Canavan’s point that it is very important that only people with imminent travel arrangements should call the helpline, in particular, in the first period.

On the US certificates, these will be recognised for travel purposes. I estimate that there are conversations under way between the EU and key third countries, including the UK and the US, and it is a case of watching that space where there may be high-level agreements reached on this. I am not clear about the technical interoperability and whether they will be able to read QR codes from the US and we will look into that and issues to do with other third countries immediately after delivering on the work programme to 19 July.

To reiterate, people’s digital Covid-19 certificates will be arriving over the next while and it is only people who have an urgent situation should use that helpline for the moment.

Is the certificate that is sent out something that can be photocopied to have a spare copy when people travel? People often have photocopies of important documents in case things get lost. Is such a copy also acceptable?

Mr. Muiris O'Connor

Yes, Deputy, it is. The security features transfer across copies so photocopying and printing all work very well.

I thank the witnesses very much and I wish them the very best of luck with this initiative.

I have one quick question for Ms Canavan. The certificates are being issued for everyone who has been vaccinated in Ireland, which is 1.9 million persons.

Does the Department know how many people have tested positive for Covid and recovered in the past six months? That particular category includes people who would not have been vaccinated. Does Ms Canavan know the numbers of people involved in that regard and when they will be getting digital Covid certificates?

Mr. Damien McCallion

I can come in to respond with the numbers, if Ms Canavan wants me to.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

I would say Mr. McCallion has more up-to-date numbers.

Mr. Damien McCallion

Over the past 180 days, just short of 130,000 people have tested positive for Covid-19. That number fluctuates depending on the previous period. It would have been higher based on the numbers in January but over the most recent the 180-day window, approximately 130,000 have tested positive. Some of those people have subsequently been vaccinated, which will reduce that number. The figure of 130,000 is to give the committee an indication of the numbers who have tested positive.

Mr. McCallion would anticipate that roughly 130,000 people, give or take, will be awaiting the digital Covid certificate on the basis of testing positive for Covid and recovering in the past six months. Is that a fair estimate?

Mr. Damien McCallion

The 130,000 is the number of people who tested positive for Covid in the past six months. The certificates in those cases are being requested through the call centre, rather than being pushed out. A skeletal amount of data has been collected-----

Will those certificates only be available on request?

Mr. Damien McCallion

That is correct. The rationale for that is that only a skeletal amount of data has been collected on people who have tested positive. For the purposes of public health, we are trying to get people tested quickly and to allow them to take positive actions if they test positive. We collect a more comprehensive data set for vaccination and we are, therefore, able to do a more thorough search and remove people who are deceased as best we can in order to minimise any impact on people receiving those certificates.

In summary, anyone who is vaccinated in Ireland will receive a certificate automatically. Groups of people who have tested positive in the past six months and who have not been vaccinated will receive a certificate on request when they contact a HSE call centre. Anyone who has tested negative, using a PCR test, must request a digital Covid certificate. Is that correct?

Mr. Damien McCallion

I will make one correction to what the Chairman has said. HSE Live is not involved in that regard. It is swamped with calls about vaccinations. The new travel certificate call centre is the relevant contact point, the number for which will be published separately. Ms Canavan referred to the emergency line which will transition next week to an ongoing call centre service. I wanted to clarify that so there is no confusion.

Am I correct in saying there will be specific call centre for the digital Covid certificate?

Mr. Damien McCallion

That is correct.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

That is correct.

A digital Covid certificate will be sent automatically when someone is vaccinated but if someone has tested positive for Covid and recovered in the past six months, he or she must contact the call centre. If a person is travelling on the basis of a negative PCR test taken in the previous 72 hours, he or she must also make that phone call.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

The Chairman is correct in what he has said about vaccination. In cases in which a person has recovered, what we call the pull model will apply whereby he or she requests a certificate. That request will be made through the call centre. In the case of a negative or not-detected test, the person will be doing that through the private provider. A person will go in and pay a fee. If the provider is a part of our system and has signed up to the standard operating procedures, we will allow them to generate a certificate through our system.

I have a couple of questions. I will first thank Ms Canavan for all she has been doing. I have seen her on the television at various briefings over the past year or so. In what is either a coincidence or a perk of being a member of this committee, I just checked my email and have received my digital Covid certificate. I can now answer some of the questions people have been asking about what the certificate looks like. At least I have my certificate, although I do not know about anybody else. The certificates are now starting to circulate. I have been checking my email regularly. I thank our guests for that. I wondered had I registered under the name "Gerry" or "Gerald" but my passport name is on the certificate so I can now leave out that question.

I will ask about the pull model for people who have had Covid. Would it be fair to say that many people who had Covid have also have signed up for a vaccine? Is that the case or have most people who have had Covid decided they do not need the vaccine? Do we have any clarity on that matter? If those people have signed up for a vaccine through either the portal or a GP, they will be getting a push email or letter. Is there any clarity or are there any figures on that issue?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

The first thing to say is that, as the Senator knows, we have very high rates of sign-up. We are anticipating that persons over a certain age who have recovered will have taken up their offer of a vaccine. We have very high take-up at the moment. The over-50 age group will have had the opportunity to schedule a second dose of the vaccine by the end of this week. I do not know if Mr. McCallion wants to say anything about whether we have tried to make compare the data sets.

Mr. Damien McCallion

Ms Canavan has covered the issue. It is difficult because the testing data I mentioned earlier is a skeletal data set. It is, therefore, difficult to connect those sets in absolute terms. Ms Canavan has covered the issue. We anticipate that by the end of this week, anyone in the over-50 set who previously tested positive will have been vaccinated. Some of the younger age groups who have tested positive have not yet been vaccinated. We are closing that gap all the time and, as the committee knows, our aim is to keep rolling through the age groups. We are currently vaccinating the 30- to 34-year-old cohort. We have the alterative opt-in option, given the risk of the Delta variant, which will be delivered in pharmacies. Moving into next week, that option will be available for younger age groups. All of that will help. We saw good uptake of the vaccine in pharmacies by younger age groups last week. We do not have an absolute number but it is certain that a reasonable proportion of the approximately 130,000 people who tested positive in the past six months will have been vaccinated and, therefore, will not have to use the route of phoning the call centre.

I saw a graphic relating to the digital Covid certificate yesterday. There were criteria for eligibility for a certificate, which were that a person has been vaccinated, a person has tested positive for Covid, a person has had a negative PCR test or an antigen test which may or may not be applicable in certain countries, including Ireland. Am I right in saying that if a person has a negative PCR test, he or she then qualifies for an EU digital certificate for 180 days?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

That is not right. The 180 days refers to the recovery period. Ms O'Connor may correct me here, but in general terms, a PCR test is normally valid for 72 hours. In most countries, an antigen test is valid for 48 hours.

For how long is the digital Covid certificate I have received valid after vaccination? That is the certificate most people will be receiving.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

The European arrangement at the moment for people who have recovered from Covid is that the certificate is valid for 180 days. I do not know if a time period is specified for people who have been vaccinated. Ms O'Connor might know if that time period has been specified. We are still learning about how long vaccines last. Ms O'Connor might clarify the point.

Mr. Damien McCallion

It is an indefinite period at the moment. The EU digital Covid certificate regulation is legislation that will expire at the conclusion of the pandemic. It is a matter of what science indicates about the period of immunity.

If someone has not been vaccinated and gets a PCR test, for how long is a digital Covid certificate valid in those circumstances?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

It is valid for 72 hours.

That certificate is almost literally just to get somebody on an aeroplane.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

It is a snapshot.

In order to come back into Ireland, will a person who has travelled in those circumstances have to apply for another digital Covid certificate in another country?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

That is correct.

In that case, people who are intending to travel should get vaccinated or have already tested positive for Covid.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

We would not be encouraging anybody to get Covid.

No, obviously not. The certificates based on PCR and antigen tests are inflexible relative to those available for people who have been vaccinated or who have had Covid.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

That is the case because PCR tests are only a snapshot of infectiousness at a point in time. That is important. One of the areas in which we have work to do is to make a clear checklist for people when they are travelling. The landing page on gov.ie/travel will point people towards a number of things about which they need to think before travelling. It will also point to the Department of Foreign Affairs website. The Department has done an analysis of the top queries for the most popular countries. There is easy and accessible information available relating to the requirements for entry to the most popular tourist destinations. We are trying to give people as much information as possible but we are definitely telling people to check the requirements before they go and to be aware that the situation in different countries can change.

We are trying to keep the information as real-time as we can. Does Ms Jones wish to add anything further?

Ms Barbara Jones

I thank the committee for the opportunity to give it this important up-to-date information. As Ms Canavan stated, it has never been so difficult or complex for families to travel these days. We have aligned our work with that of the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Health to maintain a travel helpline, backed up by up-to-date information on our website. That information is also accessible through the Covid travel website. As such, there are two website interfaces for the public to get up-to-date information, which bears reading owing to the complexity of country-by-country information. For people with urgent travel or passport queries, we are backing up and scaling up our customer service lines for when the change happens on 19 July.

I will put a question to Ms Canavan. Yesterday, I received a query from someone who was getting married to an American. The wedding is to be in Ireland in September, having already been postponed three or four times. The American relatives are reluctant to start booking flights and so on. Obviously, we do not want to import cases. I referred the person who contacted me to the website, where I found good information, and I thank the witnesses for its up-to-date information. I found the answer that I thought was correct, but now we are here. Is it correct to say that, if the American relatives have vaccinated status by the time they arrive and have the certificates to prove that, they will not have to quarantine, subject to the possibility of the emergency brake being applied?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

That is correct.

An American tourist who gets off an aeroplane after 19 July, who has been vaccinated and who can prove that with a certificate can get on the Aircoach if it is running, go to a hotel, and go out and socialise in a bar.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

All subject to the emergency brake procedure.

I accept that the hospitality element is a fluid situation. I was sitting in the Seanad while listening to this meeting on my earphones, so I believe I picked up most of what was said. The digital Covid certificate is being used by hospitality in respect of vaccinated status and recovered status, as it were, but currently not in respect of antigen or PCR tests.

What is the logic behind one hour and 45 minutes? None of the witnesses are from NPHET, but can any of them explain to me why that time applies to people who are fully vaccinated and where social distancing is in place?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

There is a separate briefing by officials from the relevant Departments. My understanding is that, because there will be unvaccinated people present, be they people who are under 18 years of age and who are with their parents or members of staff, all of the other non-pharmaceutical interventions, for example, social distancing, will be kept in place for the moment. Those details are being worked out with the hospitality sector. I understand that there will be a meeting of officials with the sector later this afternoon. There will be more detailed guidance.

Most of the questions that I wanted to ask have already been asked, so I thank our guests for their contributions, which were informative. Travel these days is a complex and complicated matter, but they have addressed quite well some of our uncertainties.

Obviously, the email roll-out of certificates will be quick. The postal roll-out will be more complicated and involve a great deal more work. When Ms Canavan referred to the roll-out over the next while, could she be a bit more specific? For instance, when might I expect to get my certificate? I got my vaccination through a GP. How long will the process take?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

Some 1.9 million records have been transferred to the OGCIO. Half will be issued by email, half will be issued by post. We anticipate that batches will be done every day for the next number of days, which will follow on from the approximately 160,000 that were sent by post yesterday. Our plan is to have certificates printed and posted for next-day delivery over the course of this week. I cannot say that everyone will have got their certificate by 19 July, but that is what we are working towards.

Many people have been asking about this because they have booked the 19 July as their departure dates. The witnesses are effectively working to get everyone with a certificate in hand before then, if possible.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

We are. We will certainly achieve it within a day or two, but our plan is to try to achieve it for 19 July.

I wish to clarify one or two matters. When the emails will issue will be down to when groups were vaccinated. I expect that 1 million emails will be sent by tomorrow. On the postal side, Ms Canavan hopes to have them all out by 19 July. Some 160,000 have gone out to date. Many of the people who were Covid positive within the previous six months and have since recovered would have gone to their GPs. Do the GPs have any role in the provision of their digital certificates or will they be required to get in contact with the call centre that is to be set up? This is probably Mr. McCallion's domain.

Mr. Damien McCallion

I might come in here, as Ms Canavan's screen has frozen. A recovery certificate would be provided on a request basis through the call centre. I wish to emphasise something that is important in the short term. People only need to ring the emergency line that is being set up where they are due to travel imminently. We do not want the line to get swamped with people who are genuinely interested in getting their certificates. In cases like those that Mr. Lowry set out, for example, emails bouncing back from addresses, those people will be contacted and their cases will be followed through. If people have not received their certificates by 19 July, I do not want them to panic and think that they will not get them or that something has gone wrong. That work will flow on with any rebalance, for want of a better word, where those certificates do not get delivered for a variety of reasons, for example, incorrect email addresses.

Recovery certificates will be issued on a request basis. People will not need to go to their GPs for those.

Does the GP have any role in that regard?

Mr. Damien McCallion

No. We have a database of people who were Covid positive, which comprises the 130,000 cases that the Chairman mentioned. That database will be used to generate a recovery certificate once it is requested.

It is a database of people who have been Covid positive in the previous nine months.

Mr. Damien McCallion

The past six months.

What are the centre's contact details? Is there a freephone number or email address? Can people email? If someone was Covid positive within the past six months, can he or she contact the call centre and request a digital Covid certificate before 19 July or must he or she wait until then to make that call?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

I apologise, as my power went momentarily. Anybody who got a certificate has the emergency helpline number on it and can call if they have a query. We are encouraging people who are travelling urgently to use that line over the next few days. We will not be able to process requests until 19 July when the full call centre is up and running, but all of that information will be available on the website. The emergency line will go live today. However, we encourage people not to call it if they are just waiting for their vaccination certificates and to instead wait a few days because their certificates are on the way.

Is it correct to say that people who have received negative PCR tests and who will be flying will not get their digital Covid certificates until after 19 July?

The only group that will get their digital Covid certificates prior to 19 July 2021 are those who have been fully vaccinated in Ireland. I anticipate that the intention is that everyone who has been fully vaccinated in Ireland will receive their digital Covid certificate prior to 19 July 2021. I ask Ms Canavan whether that is correct.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

We anticipate that we will get out digital Covid certificates for the 1.9 million people whose data we have transferred so far. That is our aim. A further number of people have been fully vaccinated but we need to tidy up their data. Mr. McCallion might wish to say something about that group.

How many people are involved in that group?

Mr. Damien McCallion

There are just over 2 million fully vaccinated people at the moment. We are continuing to move further records through and 1.9 million have gone over. To recap on the earlier point, some people’s emails will bounce back, some will have wrong addresses and so on. They will have to be dealt with. I want to flag that the resolution of some of those cases will spill over into the week commencing 19 July 2021. As Ms Canavan has said, the emergency line is for those who need to travel. It is important that this message gets out there in order that this line is protected for those people who have an imminent journey. If there are issues with any of their certificates, we can look at resolving those through the process described by Ms Canavan..

Mr. McCallion is referring to approximately 100,000 fully vaccinated people whose details the HSE still seeks to get over. Finally, can people contact the digital Covid certificate call centre by email? Does it have to be by phone?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

In our planned initial set-up, a lot of information will be available on gov.ie. We hope it will resolve many of the questions people have. It will be a phone-line service. We will continue to look at how that is working. We will respond to surge as-----

As this is a public forum, what is that freefone number? Does Mr. O'Connor have that freefone number at his disposal so he can give it out?

Mr. Muiris O'Connor

I need to get permission from Ms Canavan.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

Yes, please go ahead.

Mr. Muiris O'Connor

It is 1800-851-504.

That number will be imprinted in most Irish people's brains in a short period of time. Is that number up and running now?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

The number is going live this morning. As I say, we encourage people to wait for the next few days. If they expect a digital Covid certificate, ringing the line will not help them. Just wait for the next few days. The certificates are on their way. If someone who has a certificate has an urgent query because they are travelling on 19 July 2021, then the phone line will be able to help them. We want to prioritise that particular group of people. We urge people to wait over the next few days as the certificates arrive. They will not all arrive today. However, there is a rolling schedule to get them out before 19 July 2021.

I have two quick questions. Who will be carrying out spot checks in airports and ports for people travelling in and out of Ireland? How is Ms Canavan certain that she is eliminating fraud? Because digital Covid certificates can be photocopied, the barcode or QR code will hold. Those are the two quick questions. Who will be carrying out spot checks at the airports and ports? Second, what are the anti-fraud mechanisms within the digital Covid certificate?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

First, it is worth emphasising that the main check, which is in line with the EU guidance, will be done at the point of departure. It will be done by the carriers. There will be some spot checks carried out. I will ask my colleague, Ms Brett, to comment on that. In relation to fraud, the whole idea behind the digital Covid certificate is that it is a verifiable mechanism that is shared across the EU through an EU process that verifies the QR code as valid. It will be attached to rules for a given country. As for validation, the minimum we would expect of a person who is producing a QR code is that the name on that certificate will need to match the passport, for example. Could Ms Brett say more about the spot checks?

Ms Maeve Brett

The clear guidance from the EU is that the checks of these documents must be done on departure. The rationale for that is to avoid unnecessary queues and congestion in arrival halls, particularly in Dublin Airport, as numbers scale up. The border management unit at Dublin Airport will carry out spot checks. Our colleagues at An Garda Síochána at the other ports of entry will do likewise, using the EU digital Covid certificate, DCC, verifier app.

I now call on Deputy Cathal Crowe, who is now back at the meeting. He has six minutes.

I thank the Chair for facilitating me. A meeting of the health committee this morning coincided with this meeting. We were looking at the new legislation to reopen bars and restaurants for vaccinated people. While that was a significant debate and took precedence over this, I have been following this meeting. I have a number of quick questions. I apologise if some of these have been answered as I was not in attendance for the full meeting. If witnesses could briefly reply to them again for my own benefit, I would hugely appreciate it.

First, I have had a number of emails overnight about the helpline number. I am able to respond to the body of information but I do not have a helpline number just yet. I would appreciate it. Second, what happens if the email or letter comes through while the person is abroad? A person could be at home, trying to book a foreign trip in the anticipation that they will travel few weeks from now. All of this information is coming in but some people will take a leap of faith and travel. The letter could then arrive in the post when the neighbours are over feeding the cats and dogs. The neighbours will notice the digital green certificate has arrived. How does that correlate, when that vital information comes in, if the person is already out of the country?

The third question is on what happens if the scientific information changes. I caught some of this earlier in the debate. Right now, the digital Covid certificate will last for an indefinite duration because the individual is vaccinated. It is believed that this will continue going forward. However, scientific information may change and there is some suspicion that it might, on foot of some information from Israel. If the efficacy of the vaccine reduces in the months ahead, and booster shots are needed, how will that be reflected in certification? I am bundling my questions and I might come in again briefly later.

Fourth, what happens if a person travels a day or two before their digital Covid certificate is issued? I am aware that the guidance is to wait until 19 July 2021. However, this is like trying to keep lambs in a field. Once people heard that the date of 19 July 2021 was the possible date of travel, some people immediately started looking at what flights were available. A few have booked to fly on 17 or 18 July 2021. What can people in that category expect when they go to an airport? It is 24 or 48 hours out from this regime being in place. They are anxious to know what they will face. I understand that 19 July 2021 is the official date but as we approach those dates, it is important to give some guidance.

My fifth question is on where the check will happen. I heard a previous contributor say that the carrier will check the digital Covid certificate. As someone prepares to fly from an airport, will this happen at check-in? Will it be at the passport screening point? Will it be at the departure gate? Where will it happen? I apologise for bundling my questions. Finally, will there be any indication of live waiting times? Britain is a little ahead of us on all of this and British national news agencies, including Sky News and the BBC, have on a daily basis provided live trackers of waiting times at airports. I direct this question in particular to Ms Canavan. The Department of the Taoiseach, the heart of the Government, should have some official communication, like it has had all along for Covid-19 figures each evening. It would be important in the initial weeks, as people get into this new regime, to have some indication of live waiting times. Those are my six questions and I hope the witnesses can come back on some of them.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

My colleagues have been evacuated from the Department of Health, so they are not on the line at the moment. I will answer those questions as best I can. We have given out the helpline number. We are very mindful in saying that this is an emergency number for the rest of this week. We will have a full call centre stood up on Monday. In the short term, we have a limited offering, which will be focused on those people who have received their certificate, have a query about that certificate, and intend to travel in the very short term.

May I ask what the phone number is, Ms Canavan?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

It is 1800 851 504.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

We are encouraging people not to ring up to ask where it is because they are only going out in batches over the coming days, so we are asking people to be patient. If they are expecting it by email, they should get it very quickly, but if it is expected by post, it will arrive over the coming days, as they have to be managed in batches. If the letter comes while you are abroad, and we talked about this earlier, and if you have a neighbour minding the cats, they can open your letter, photograph it and send it to you. The QR code will transfer and it will be readable in that way, so there is a work-around on that. Obviously, you can pick up your email abroad, if you are getting it by email. However, it can be photographed and photocopied.

In terms of the science changing, what the Deputy set out is correct. For the vaccination, at the moment validity is indefinite, as he said. The science may change on that, but that is what the EU rules are at the moment and we are working on the basis of that.

In terms of recovery, validity is 180 days. That will be the duration of the validity for a DCC based on recovery. PCR or antigen tests will have a more limited validity. In general terms, PCR is considered to have a 72-hour validity and antigen a 48-hour validity. The digital Covid certificates based on the tests are of much shorter duration.

Regarding travel delays, we are advising people to check in advance everything relating to their travel arrangements and that they have everything they need. To be clear, the main document they will need to enter this country will be the electronic passenger locator form. They will not be allowed to board without it. The carriers are carrying out the check for that at time of boarding, so it is necessary to have that form completed and to have a receipt to show it has been completed. The electronic format is live now. The requirement for carriers to ensure they have checked for the EPLF before boarding is in place since yesterday.

I suggest the departure gate is rather late in the system, given that everything from the boarding card to the passport is screened further back in the airport concourse. It is quite late if somebody is kicking up a fuss, which will happen. There were even court challenges a few months ago, frustratingly. There will be people who will try to wriggle their way out of this, not having been tested, and they will be at the point of departure, holding it up for everyone. I would suggest a better place to do whatever screening is required would be further back in the airport concourse, before reaching the actual departure gate. We do not want flights to be delayed. We have had few enough flights taking off over the last few months, and the last thing we want is a kerfuffle before people board a plane.

Members of this committee have been huge advocates of antigen testing. Of course, there is an expert group reporting back, and I know it is stitched into the digital Covid certificate and is legally provided for. However, how is that advancing in terms of the group which is co-ordinating this for the State? Where are we at in that regard?

A question I asked earlier was not addressed. If people decide to fly a day or two before 19 July, what can they expect when they present themselves at the airport? How many restrictive regimes are still in place? If they arrive with a digital Covid certificate, will the bona fides of that be accepted a day or two before 19 July?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

In line with the EU requirements, antigen tests will be recognised as part of the digital Covid certificate. However, it is important that we do not conflate what the digital Covid certificate can show proof of. It is a credential. It is a proof, but we can not conflate that with the current public health guidance and the current Government policy in relation to entry to Ireland, which is for PCR, if a person is not vaccinated. That is the current Government position relating to antigen tests.

Regarding those who wish to travel at the moment, the existing advice is, and the current regime is such, that people are advised that there should be no non-essential travel in advance of 19 July. That is Government policy.

I do not know if Ms Brett is in a position to say anything further on what is currently happening at the airport.

Ms Maeve Brett

In terms of the border management unit on the arrivals side, until 19 July every passenger coming into the country requires a negative PCR test. When those regulations are updated by our colleagues in the Department of Health, from 19 July, the requirements will be set out more clearly in the legislation.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

It is important to say that carriers are already being asked to check for a paper version of the PLF. That is not a new check and is one they have already been doing. Obviously, we are very aware of the need to avoid congestion, so we are encouraging people to make sure they have full information and have their checklist as to what they need in advance. We are making that very clear in all the available information on our websites. The other thing we are doing, in line with EU guidance, is that we want to have those checks done at the departure stage, and not at the arrivals stage, because that would clog up the system even more. That is the approach we have taken in line with EU guidance.

There should be a small team in each airport to guide people through. God knows there have been enough airport workers laid off temporarily over the last 16 months, so it would be good for a directive to come from Government that at a minimum a certain staffing level relating to this alone be retained. People are hoping to get back to work and I will propose that. I hope that will be favourably met by the officials here.

In that regard, we are already getting many queries around the digital Covid certificate. Ms Canavan might look at setting up an Oireachtas liaison contact for us to interact with. That would make the system very streamlined. To clarify one thing, I am correct in saying that when the digital Covid certificate comes into play, people under the age of six do not require one and can accompany their parents regardless, but people between the age of seven and 17 will require a negative PCR test. For people coming from the UK, that point has to be clarified yet. Those under the age of six will be able to travel, regardless of their circumstances. Obviously, they will not vaccinated. In regard to people between the age of seven and 17, that point is still to be clarified. I presume that will apply to other designated countries outside the EU as well. Would Ms Canavan confirm my reading of that is correct?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

We are specifically reviewing the children's scenario in terms of those under the age of six vis-à-vis those under 12. We are looking at that at the moment, and that will be considered by Government.

In terms of the UK, that is a Government decision. Ms Canavan will appreciate there is a lot of over and back and families travelling to and fro. A situation where parents can travel but their children cannot results in huge difficulties just on a human level, so it is something that needs to be clarified. That we are doing negative PCR tests within the EU is something that should be looked at in terms of commonality with the UK. We are allowing vaccinated people to travel and we should be allowing those under the age of six, who are not vaccinated. Those aged seven to 17 would be required to have negative PCR tests in line with other European countries. This is something Ms Canavan's group might consider. It is a matter we will take up with the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, tomorrow. It is causing confusion and we are fast approaching the departure gates on 19 July.

We have the benefit of having access to Twitter this morning. From some of the comments coming in, it seems there are many people watching this, which is rather unusual. There is some concern about whether the helpline will be able to issue recovery certificates on or before 19 July, recognising that people will be free to travel if they have recovered. Can the witnesses confirm that for emergency purposes the helpline will be able to delivery recovery certificates?

There is also an issue, which has come up on Twitter, where there seems to be an indication that two Ministers gave conflicting information this morning on where a recovery certificate could be obtained. One seemed to indicate that it could be obtained from-----

Senator Dooley, many of those issues have been clarified already. It would be no harm for Ms Canavan to do a quick recap.

Before I finish, Marian Keyes, the author, indicated that she received somebody else's certificate in the post this morning. That is just one point that has come from Twitter.

Ms Canavan, you might do a quick recap on those points and maybe deal with the issue of Marian Keyes getting a digital Covid certificate in someone else's name.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

In regard to recovery certificates, as I mentioned earlier, we are going to operate on a pull basis, so they have to be requested. That service will be available from the fully functional call centre, which will be set up from 19 July. We will not be able to take those requests in advance of that. We will not be able to process them. We will take some requests, possibly if they come through on the helpline, but we will not be able to process them until 19 July when we have the full call centre up and running. That has also to do in part with the management of the data movement, because a certain amount of information is transferring between different parties. That is our current intention. I do not think we will be able to do any better than that in terms of recovery certificates. To be clear, they will be issued from the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, OGCIO, in the same way as a vaccination certificate. There is no need to ring anybody else as nobody else will be able to generate it.

The GP can do nothing.

The GP has no role.

If someone gets a digital Covid certificate in the post and is uncertain about the address or has received an incorrect digital Covid certificate, I assume he or she can ring 1800 851 504 immediately.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

If anyone has a query on the certificate he or she received today, that is what the emergency line is for.

Thank you.

I am going to bring in two contributors but I will ask them to be a minute. If it is longer than a minute, I will have to cut in because we are over time and, obviously, we live in Covid times. Deputy Ó Murchú and Senator Horkan have a minute each. I ask them to abide by this please.

I thank Ms Canavan for the clearest opening statement ever. Some of this could have been answered. We know things are changing and will be as regards whether booster shots are needed. I assume the digital Covid certificate contains information that will always be there in regard to the date of second vaccination. I may have missed it, but will it be issued straightaway to people as soon as they have their second vaccination? Will there be a time delay? If that is the case, I will be watching my email intently in about five or six days' time.

I notice on Twitter that Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív has raised the issue that the name of the country is the Republic of Ireland as opposed to Ireland. Is that an oversight or is there a particular reason the Republic of Ireland is being used rather than the official name of the State, which is Ireland, because I would have thought that would have been the preference?

I call Ms Canavan.

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

I will have to refer to my colleagues in terms of the design of the certificate in the context of the EU. Mr. Lowry, are you back online? Can you clarify that?

Mr. Barry Lowry

We acted on instruction of the EU on this. We could certainly check that.

Just to clarify, the name of the State is Ireland rather than the Republic of Ireland - that is the football team. The name of the country is Ireland.

That is something we can look into and correct.

On behalf of all my colleagues, I thank Ms Canavan, Mr. O'Connor, Ms Brett, Mr. O'Flaherty, Mr. McCallion, Mr. Lowry, Mr. Rogers and Ms Jones for attending today's meeting. It was hugely informative for the public. Our role, as public servants, is to disseminate information and ask questions. I thank Ms Canavan and her colleagues for the substantial amount of work they have done. There will be tweaks in the system. There are policy issues we could not deal with today regarding the common travel area and other designated countries and how they will be dealt with from 19 July. That is why the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, is before us tomorrow. I thank Ms Canavan and all the witnesses for the work they do. We look forward to further interacting with them. No doubt Ms Canavan will take on board our constructive requests. An Oireachtas liaison contact person would make much sense, so that we could make representations on behalf of our constituents, which is the norm. I have no doubt she will take that on board. Ms Canavan, do you wish to make any closing comments?

Ms Elizabeth Canavan

No. Thank you Chair and members. Hopefully, we have dealt with many of the queries and that this will help get the message out to the public.

This has been a very worthwhile engagement. It is important to give the freephone number, which is 1800 851 403. That is the number the public can ring, which is for the designated call centre for the digital Covid certificate.

Our next meeting will be a private one at 4 p.m. today. We have a meeting with the Minister of State with responsibility for the roll-out of the digital Covid certificate, Deputy Ossian Smyth, tomorrow at 12.30 p.m. We will take up the points raised today, in particular in respect of the common travel area.

The joint committee adjourned at 11.36 a.m. until 12.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 14 July 2021.