Covid-19: It's time to test those arriving at our airports

Cantillon: Move would give tourism sector some hope

Dublin airport’s  Terminal 1  during the lockdown in April. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Dublin airport’s Terminal 1 during the lockdown in April. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Coalitions are by their nature difficult as two or, in this case, three parties try to frame cohesive policies while battling each other to secure kudos for good news and deflect blame for bad headlines or hard policy decisions onto their partners.

But even by those standards it has been a chaotic first month for the new Government, the latest being the row about travel that simply won’t go away.

The airlines, the airports and the unions have all now had their say. Ireland is clearly at odds with its European partners, and with a vaccine possibly more than another summer season away everyone relying on the tourist industry cannot simply hunker down and hope to survive.

The recurring message throughout the crisis has been that the way to avoid another shutdown is a comprehensive, speedy and efficient test-and-trace system. That makes sense, and for the tourist sector it seems essential.

We are told the system is now up to scratch, but the Government seems strangely unwilling to put it to the test. Both Micheál Martin and his predecessor, Leo Varadkar, have consistently said it will not work, citing the potential for people to cross over from the North. NPHET seems unconvinced by that argument.

It is a weakness certainly. But Germany is now talking about testing – at airports and even on motorways into the country – and it has among the longest and most open of borders in the EU. And the North appears to be managing the virus as well or better than we are down here.

Above all it remains the case that the vast majority of people entering the State do so through our airports and our ports.

We are currently hunting down alleged welfare “cheats” on the open, public areas of our airports. If that is considered logistically worthwhile it must surely be easier to test people for Covid in the more regulated space airside and then properly quarantine those who deliver positive results.

That would at least give the tourism sector, and the airlines, some hope.

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