Public health officials ‘mismanaging’ Covid-19 crisis, says Ryanair chief

Airline may have to cut flights and jobs in Republic, Michael O’Leary warns

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary on Wednesday accused public health officials of mismanaging the Covid-19 crisis and closing the Republic to business by advocating an "isolationist" travel policy.

Mr O'Leary warned that Ryanair may have to cut flights and jobs in the Republic, or ask staff here to take unpaid winter leave, if restrictions requiring travellers from most European Union countries to quarantine for 14 days remain.

The airline recently struck deals with its Irish unions that avoided the need for redundancies in the Republic, but its chief executive indicated that current travel restrictions could force it to reopen talks.

He was speaking after Ryanair Holdings, Europe's biggest airline, called on the Government to add Germany and the UK to its green list of countries from which travellers do not have to quarantine.

Mr O’Leary pointed out that Government has pledged to add countries with lower Covid-19 rates to the list. “Germany and the UK have lower Covid rates, so add them to the list,” he said.

He argued that the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has mismanaged the crisis, claiming had failed to prevent a recent spike in Covid cases in the Republic.

Mr O’Leary noted that most other EU states followed medical advice that flying was safe, while the Republic uniquely ignored this, but still experienced an increase in infections.

"All the same medical experts across Europe say flying is safe, this the only European country that's been closed for business, and our Covid cases are deteriorating," he said.

"The point we are making is that in Germany, Italy and the UK they have been flying freely, and they have materially lower Covid cases than in Ireland, " Mr O'Leary added.

Tracking and tracing

He maintained that the Health Services Executive and NPHET had failed to introduce effective tracking and tracing.

Passengers arriving in German airports are tested and told of the result within 24 hours, he explained. However, results take several days to process here.

Mr O’Leary said Ryanair made wearing face masks mandatory in May, while NPHET was still questioning the scientific rationale for this. “But, suddenly they introduce mandatory face mask wearing on the 10th of August,” he said.

He warned that as a small island on the edge of Europe, the Republic could not continue to pursue an “isolationist” travel policy that ran counter to what its major trading partners, the UK and Germany, were doing.

“Business has got be to allowed to get back up and running,” he said. The airline chief called on the Government to govern and stop simply accepting the NPHET’s advice without question.

The airline boss stressed that other EU states were learning to live with Covid-19 getting back to as near normal as possible, and argued the Republic would have to do the same.

Ryanair has been calling for the Government to add all EU states and the UK to the green list since it restarted flying 40 per cent of its schedule at the start of last month.

Mr O’Leary said bookings outside the Republic were robust enough, but they remained weak here in the face of travel restrictions.

Earlier, the airline issued a statement saying that the continued “isolationist” travel policy had made the Republic “laughing stock of Europe”.

Most EU states opened to flights from other nations within the bloc on July 1st, following advice from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the European Centre for Disease Control.

The Department of Health, which is responsible for the NPHET, did not respond to several requests for a comment.