Applicants will no longer need a positive Covid PCR test to be able to claim the increased sickness allowance of € 350, as part of the new changes announced by the Ministry of Social Protection.
Heather Humphries announced tonight that her department will now accept a Health Service Executive (HSE) antigen test to qualify for the benefit, as well as a text from HSE that you are a close contact or certificate from your GP.
The PCR testing system has been strained in recent days, with some people having to wait several days before they can get an appointment for one and then wait up to 72 hours for a result.
Ms Humphrey’s said her department has broadened the range of documents people can use to apply to include:
- Confirmation from HSE that you have ordered an antigen test (the system will be in place from Monday)
- SMS from HSE indicating that you are a close contact
- Certification from your general practitioner indicating that you have symptoms of Covid-19 and / or are a probable source of infection.
As has been the case so far, a positive PCR test result will also be eligible for enhanced sickness benefit.
Announcing the changes, Minister Humphreys said it was a “time of anxiety” for families.
“Following discussions between my managers and HSE, I introduced new flexibilities tonight to make it easier for clients to access enhanced sickness benefit,” she said.
“Because of these changes, a person requesting antigen testing from the HSE can use that proof of claim to apply for enhanced sickness benefit for the days they are out of work.
“It is so important that anyone who tests positive or exhibits symptoms to self-isolate and follow public health advice.
“I know these new flexibilities I’m announcing today will give people the peace of mind that my department is there to support them if they get sick or have to take time off work due to Covid-19.”
The Covid-19 booster vaccination program will be open to all remaining age groups from Sunday, January 2 with initial appointments available for booking from later this evening.
Breaking the news on Twitter, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said all people aged 16 and over eligible for a booster vaccine will be able to access the service “sooner than expected.”
Booster injections will be available at HSE vaccination centers as well as general practitioners and community pharmacies.
Ireland has the second highest rate of use of Covid-19 boosters in the European Union.
As of December 31, more than two million booster vaccines have been administered, with 130,000 doses in the past five days.
As of Thursday, 58,000 vaccines were administered, while more than 6,400 people showed up for their first or second vaccine.
Mr Donnelly added that he wished to “thank the health workers and the public for their tremendous support for our immunization program.”
“This acceleration of programs means that many of our vaccination centers will now administer primary, booster and pediatric doses of the Covid-19 vaccine,” he said.
“More clinics will be scheduled over the next few days. Appointments will be made through the HSE online system.”
Another 20,110 confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been reported in Ireland.
At 8 a.m. on Friday, there were 682 Covid-positive patients in the hospital, an increase of 63 since yesterday.
Of them, 86 were in intensive care, down from two.
In the North, a record 7,215 positive cases of Covid-19 have been notified by the Ministry of Health with one additional death.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said: ‘Once again we are reporting another very high number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.
“The number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 continues to increase.
“I know a lot of people have canceled or postponed planned social and family events, not just for New Years Eve, but throughout the Christmas period.
“The opportunities in life we look forward to the most have been completely changed by this pandemic.
“However, these collective efforts are necessary to protect us, us, our loved ones and our health service. “
Dr Holohan said it was time to remember frontline healthcare workers “who are now facing a third year of responding to the pandemic” and to thank them for their efforts.
“Under the most difficult circumstances, they continue to work to protect public health and maintain access to services in all parts of our health service.
“In delivering Covid and non-Covid services, patients and their families have benefited from their empathy, skills and care. “
He also paid tribute to those who have “unfortunately died from Covid-19 in Ireland since the start of this pandemic, as well as their families and loved ones who mourn their loss”.
Dr Holohan added that there were “many reasons for cautious optimism” in 2022.
“Advances in science and public health, including the development of new treatments like antivirals and monoclonal antibodies, and the continued evolution of our understanding of this virus give us reason to hope that 2022 may be a better one. year from a COVID perspective than 2020 or 2021, ”he said.
The health minister understands the frustration of many who cannot take a PCR test, but has denied that the new guidelines on testing and social contact are confusing.
Stephen Donnelly admitted that in “most cases” people will not be able to use a positive antigen test for work or social purposes.
“The advice I have is that in most cases right now you can’t use that, it’s a positive PCR test that’s being used for these,” he said.
Mr Donnelly said that many people will still want to take a PCR test and argued that the new requirement to have a positive antigen before reserving a PCR is to ensure that people can get the test “as quickly as possible. ‘they need it”.
He agreed with Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan who advised people not to meet indoors with other households as it is “just not safe”.
However, he admitted that the advice goes against current government policy which still allows up to four households to reunite.
“I think Dr Holohan is right,” Mr Donnelly. “There is genuine concern around the super-spraying events. People should minimize other households they encounter inside as much as possible.”
He added: “Government policy, as you know, was last approved on December 22, and government policy is that there should be a maximum of three other households.
“But as we said at the time, we were very aware of the number of cases that we are going to increase. It is a maximum and I think Dr Holohan is correct that at this moment what we must do is to minimize as much as possible the other households that we meet. “
The health minister said he understood the frustration of many people who could not take a PCR test, but the testing system is kept under “constant review.”
“The ministry has worked closely with the HSE to find the best balance between being able to make sure we know how many people have tested positive, making sure the systems are integrated, and making sure that PCR testing is available. for these. high risk groups. “
Mr Donnelly said people with a positive antigen test can now register their close contacts on an online portal.
“Anyone can now register online at HSE and you can upload your close contacts,” he said.
Mr Donnelly said people with symptoms but who do not test positive should stay home and continue to be tested. But he added: “If you have a negative antigen test, then you are not considered positive with Covid.”
He said schools were still scheduled to reopen after the Christmas holidays.