Passengers from some European Union states will not have to quarantine on arrival in the Republic from next week, once they have a test showing that they are Covid-19 negative.
Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan told TDs and Senators on Wednesday the Government would adopt the EU "traffic-light" system for travel from Sunday night, November 8th.
Mr Ryan said that, from Sunday, the Republic would waive the need for those arriving from areas classed as “orange” under this system to self-isolate for 14 days, once they confirm they have tested negative for Covid-19 up to three days before coming here.
The EU system grades regions as green, orange and red, according to the rate of Covid-19 infection in each, with green being the lowest risk.
The Minister said that the requirement to restrict their movements for 14 days would remain for those arriving from red zones, which have the highest infection rates.
However, the Government has agreed that “as soon as practicable, this can be waived following a negative test result from an approved Covid-19 test taken five days after arrival”.
A cross-department working group is due to give Government a plan to establish test centres for arriving travellers next week. Mr Ryan stressed that this would not interfere with the health services’ existing virus testing.
He acknowledged that only a small number of EU regions were rated orange by the European Centre for Disease Control. Most remained red, or high risk, following a surge in Covid-19 cases.
Airlines Aer Lingus and Ryanair want the Government to allow free movement to travellers arriving from green and orange zones.
Mr Ryan’s statement means that the Republic is easing current restrictions, which are among the toughest in the EU.
The Minister also signalled that the Government would back plans to establish testing centres at the Republic’s airports for those travelling from the Republic.
Dublin Airport owner, DAA, says it could have a centre open within days if it gets a ministerial order waiving the need to get planning permission for the facility.
“The Government will assist DAA in whatever way they need assistance,” the Minister said. He added that whatever testing system the airport introduced would have to be one approved by health authorities.
Mr Ryan told the committee that the Republic would only accept results from polymerase chain reaction tests, which check for the virus’s DNA, rather than faster, cheaper screening, which identify antigens released by an individual’s immune system.
“The current advice from the international authorities is that antigen testing is not appropriate for international air travel,” he noted.
Should that advice change, Mr Ryan said, the Government should also be prepared to change.
Gloomy outlook for airlines
Meanwhile, Eamonn Brennan, director general of Eurocontrol, the umbrella body for the EU's air traffic control authorities, predicted that it could take almost a decade for airlines to recover from the pandemic.
Its figures show that the number of flights in European skies are likely to fall almost seven million this year to 4.5 million from 11.4 million in 2019.
Eurocontrol’s “best-case scenario”, with a vaccine available to travellers next summer, forecasts that air travel could return to 2019 levels in 2024.
“There is a very real prospect that this recovery could take even longer, perhaps to as far out as 2029,” said Mr Brennan, warning that this would be “catastrophic” for aviation.
Eurocontrol’s second-best forecast, based on a vaccine emerging in summer 2022, has aviation recovering 92 per cent of 2019 levels in 2024.
However, its worst-case, based on vaccines turning out to be ineffective, calculates that that airlines could claw back just three quarters of last year’s business by 2024, with full recovery taking another five years.