There is a way out of this mandatory quarantine quandary

Cantillon: Adopting EU’s revised traffic light system will speed up reopening of aviation

Aviation this week offered the Government an easy way to climb down from its embarrassing stance on its mandatory hotel quarantine scheme, and a way to end the flak it is increasingly drawing from the EU, trading partners and local commentators.

As part of a recovery plan for the industry, the National Civil Aviation Development Forum proposed that the Republic adopt the EU’s revised traffic light system. This grades regions according to their risk of infection, with dark red being the highest and green the lowest.

Instead of quarantines at budget hotels, the system relies on pre- and post-arrival tests, with limited isolation. Testing is waived for vaccinated travellers and those with proof of recovery – and therefore immunity – from the disease.

All that is really required is a simple acceptance of the plan. Beyond that, it is down to working out clearly the steps towards reopening

It’s a modified version of the one grudgingly adopted by Government late last year, shortly before new virus strains prompted it to shut the gates once more. Along with it, the forum wants the State to set out the criteria under which we lift travel restrictions, including limits on non-essential journeys.

None of this needs much effort from Government. It does not have to do the testing – it didn’t last year – and the EU is working on a certificate that proves vaccination or immunity.

All that is really required is a simple acceptance of the plan. Beyond that, it is down to working out clearly the steps towards reopening as infection rates fall and vaccines take hold.

Yet throughout this crisis both administrations that have been in power have been more wary than usual of deciding on anything, taking their lead, for the most part, from public health advice.

But the thousands of aviation employees, along with the hundreds of thousands of hospitality staff, left without work by Covid restrictions, do not have the luxury of time. As Aer Lingus chief executive Lynne Embleton told employees on Friday, airlines are on the cusp of losing another summer of revenue, which would result in more cost cuts being needed.

That income could be partly rescued by taking steps now. But only if the coalition decides on reopening travel, and getting itself, aviation and the rest of us moving.