The Taoiseach has told the Dáil that Pfizer/BioNTech sought market authorisation for their Covid-19 vaccine yesterday from the European Medical Agency.

Micheál Martin said that Emer Cooke, head of EMA, briefed EU health ministers this morning, including Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

She said that the vaccine will be assessed by 29 December, at the latest and "maybe before that".

Labour leader Alan Kelly reiterated calls for a "minister for vaccines" to allow the Covid-19 vaccine task force to carry out its duties as quickly as possible.

Mr Martin told Mr Kelly that he set up the taskforce and "will stay on top of this".

"This is an issue of national priority that goes right to the very top of Government," the Taoiseach said.

He said he was sure the Department of Health and HSE had a lot of experience and expertise.

Mr Martin said that there was a huge volume of work to get through, but that this would be done.

In terms of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, he said that infrastructure to store the vaccine at -70C was already being set up in Ireland.

He said that this equipment will be commissioned by the middle of next week.

The Taoiseach said that the EMA was looking at "early January" in terms of assessing market authorisation for the Moderna vaccine.

Earlier, Mr Kelly said that due to a range of issues from logistics, procurement, storage and IT, "somebody needs to be sitting at the Cabinet table permanently", adding, there cannot be "red tape or bureaucracy" delaying matters.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, he said that decisions around vaccines will save lives, businesses, jobs and will change society.

"We have to make sure we maximise this and get it right," he said.

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A roll-out of any vaccine in Ireland will follow approval from the EMA.

Yesterday, the Cabinet approved an advance purchase agreement for 875,000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine produced by Moderna.

It is expected the doses will be delivered early in the new year, as soon as there is EMA approval.

Ireland is already signed up to four other vaccines.

The UK today became the first country in the world to approve a Covid-19 vaccine after its Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccine for use.

Latest figures put the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital here at 228, an increase of four on yesterday.

Of these, 31 are in intensive care, no change on yesterday's figures.

Later, Mr Martin said that the Government was seeking legal advice about what additional measures could be taken to underpin the new Covid-19 testing regime for people travelling into Ireland from outside the State.

However, Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall has said his answer to the Dáil "does not inspire confidence" because we are already in December.

She said Ireland is likely to experience a lot of travel from now into the New Year.

Ms Shortall contended it was "really late in the day" to be only seeking legal advice at this point.

The Taoiseach replied that there "will be extra measures taken at airports", including random checks to ensure travellers have the specified documentation regarding the undertaking of Covid-19 tests. 

Mr Martin added that Ireland had taken "a conservative approach" when it came to travel.

He said the expectation was that the numbers coming into or travelling out of the State would be down by more than 90%.