Nursing home owners will be able to ask people visiting residents for proof of a Covid-19 pass from next Monday.
owever, there is provision for exceptions on compassionate grounds.
Earlier this month, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly approved a decision that the visitation guidance to long-term residential care facilities include the requirement for prospective visitors to be asked to indicate whether they have immunity through vaccination or prior infection.
It was confirmed in new guidance issued yesterday.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan also said the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) strongly recommends “that subject to operational feasibility that the Covid-19 pass be adopted as a requirement for visitation to healthcare settings with a provision for exemptions on compassionate grounds”.
The guidance from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre said the challenge will be to define “compassionate circumstances”, and this will require judgment.
The term should not be interpreted as limited to circumstances when the death of a resident is imminent, it said.
The decision to require a Covid-19 pass has been welcomed by Tadhg Daly of Nursing Homes Ireland, who said it would further reduce the risks to residents.
Exceptions can be made where critical and compassionate circumstances apply.
These can include circumstances in which end of life is imminent or where a resident is significantly distressed or disturbed.
It could also involve an event such as the death of a spouse, or a birthday.
Figures for nursing home outbreaks show they fell to three from six the previous week, with the roll-out of booster shots to nearly all residents playing a major role.
It comes as another 3,680 new cases of Covid were confirmed yesterday, with 543 patients in hospital, a fall of eight.
However, intensive care units were under severe pressure as the number of seriously ill Covid-19 patients rose to 97, an increase of eight overnight.
The health system is now under major strain.
A survey by the Irish Independent revealed there is at least a 24-hour delay in getting a Covid-19 PCR test in 14 of the 40 test centres across the country that offer self-referrals.
Dublin and Cork are seeing a huge demand for testing, and yesterday there was availability in only one Dublin test centre and one Cork test centre in the next two days.
As of 11am yesterday, nine out of the 40 test centres across the country that offer self-referrals had no appointments available for yesterday or today.
This includes City West, Croke Park, Sandyford and Inchicore in Dublin; The Lee, South Douglas Road and St Stephen’s Hospital in Cork; Newcastle, Wicklow; and Punchestown, Kildare.
Only 11 of the 40 centres had availability for yesterday, with the next available appointment in Dublin at 3.05pm today and in Cork at 10.55am.
Out of these 11 centres, seven had a number of time-slots available for the rest of the day, with the other four having only one slot left.
The counties with most slots available were Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan, Mayo and Roscommon. This is despite Donegal being one of the 11 counties that have been put on a “Covid alert”.
A spokesperson for the HSE said: “We have seen a sustained, extremely high demand for Covid-19 testing at our community testing centres in the last number of weeks in particular.
“The community testing service was established initially to support the delivery of 15,000 tests per day.
“The service has a number of additional measures which we have implemented to increase that daily testing figure for peak periods to 20,000 tests per day.
“Over the last number of days we have consistently carried out more than 20,000 tests per day.
“Our priority is to make sure GPs can refer patients for Covid-19 PCR testing where they feel it is warranted, and that close contacts of confirmed cases who are identified as requiring a Covid-19 PCR test get their test appointment as quickly as possible.
“We are currently working on a number of additional surge options to increase availability of community testing.”