Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary boss has urged the Government to abandon what he says are "ineffective" quarantine rules for overseas travellers.
And he has called for the liberal use of masks and a reduction in social distancing from two metres to one metre to help open the economy.
The Government wants everyone arriving in the Republic from anywhere bar the UK to quarantine for 14 days as a safeguard against the disease.
But Mr O'Leary, chief executive of Ryanair Holdings, said the Government was simply locking the State down more tightly even as other countries hit by Covid-19 were re-opening to travellers.
And the airline said that, even by the Government’s logic, it made no sense as it did not apply to the UK, the Republic’s nearest neighbour and the European country with the highest rate of Covid-19 cases and deaths.
"The Government needs to explain why Ireland, with the best record on handling the virus, is imposing the most stringent lock down of any European country," he said.
Speaking on Wednesday morning, he described the Government’s quarantine plan as 14 days as “political game playing”.
With many people leaving airports by public transport before commencing quarantine, he said, it was obvious that any such plan would be ineffective. Once a person who had arrived at the airport got on a bus the infection would spread if they had the virus, he said.
Having travel restrictions for people arriving at airports and ports when people could cross the Border from the North was not a quarantine, it was “simply political game playing”, the airline chief added.
“Ireland is introducing far more restrictive travel restrictions at a time when the rest of Europe is opening up,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.
“It’s time for Ireland to get moving. It’s time to get back flying, using face masks,” he added on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. “If the Government made more liberal use of face masks, we could go back to work,” he said.
Mr O’Leary said the introduction of face mask use for everyone could reduce the two-metre social distance requirement to one metre, allowing businesses such as hairdressers to reopen with staff and customers wearing face masks.
"We should follow Italy and Spain who have managed Covid well. Let's speed up. We have to get parts of the economy open," he said.
Ryanair plans to resume flights on July 1st. Mr O’Leary said Irish families were already booking flights to holiday destinations that were reopening their borders to tourists from June.
He denied that his advice was based on Ryanair being his priority. “Our advice is based on the comprehensive medical advice being produced by the European Centre for Disease Control, the EU medical and safety agency,” he said. “They say go back flying, but with passengers and cabin crew wearing face masks, and everybody wearing face masks in terminal buildings where social distancing isn’t possible. That is science. That is the advice.”
Mr O’Leary said Ryanair had already processed €400 million in refunds for passengers whose flights have been cancelled as a result of the coronavirus shutdown and was “working it way through the backlog”.
It would take between three and six months for the airline to pay back €1.2 billion in refunds owing – either in vouchers or cash.
Once it resumes flying, Mr O’Leary said, it would follow the advice of the European Centre for Disease Control and the European Safety Agency which emphas
ises the use of face masks, temperature checks and hand sanitiser.
Mr O’Leary maintained that the Government and Irish people had done a “fantastic job” in combating the virus over the past 10 weeks.
“This impressive record by our Government and health services is not reflected in our overly stringent lockdown measures,” he said. “It makes little sense for Ireland to be locking down further at a time when most other EU countries are opening up.”
He argued the Republic should be following the lead of Spain, France, Italy and other holiday destinations by lifting restrictions on visitors from next month.
According to a table published by Ryanair, the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University now ranks the Republic as having the toughest lockdown among the 27 EU states.
Mr O’Leary claimed it was unfair that the Republic was applying the most stringent lockdown while countries that had performed far worse were lifting restrictions.
"Ryanair calls on the Irish Government to accelerate our exit from lockdown and scrap their ineffective travel quarantine from the end of June," he said.
“Ireland has been one of the best EU countries in tackling and defeating the Covid-19 virus, and our people should not be penalised by having the most stringent EU lockdown restrictions, which are unnecessary given Ireland’s impressive Covid-19 record.”