US rectifies ‘do not travel’ virus warning for Ireland

State accused of ‘own goal’ over slowdown in data exchange believed to be related to hack

The US State Department has rectified an anomaly in its foreign travel advice for its citizens that had Ireland, almost alone in Europe, red-listed as “do not travel” because of a lack of official data about virus numbers here, which is believed to be related to the hacking of the Republic’s health computer systems.

However, the State remains greyed out on a similar traffic-light travel advice map maintained by European authorities because there is “no data available” on the virus here, according to the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) that maintains the map.

The Irish grading on the US authorities’ map for travel guidance was on Tuesday downgraded from the highest “do not travel” Level 4/red to Level 3/amber, advising US citizens only to “reconsider” travel here due to border controls and the virus. This puts the State in line with most of the rest of Europe.

Airlines and tourist industry representatives have warned, however, that the anomaly has cost bookings for later in the year from US tourists, who may have been put off by seeing Ireland red-listed. Despite having a relatively positive virus profile compared to the rest of Europe, Ireland’s US red-listing persisted for several weeks despite calls from airlines and other industry groups for Government to intervene.


HSE hack

“The US red listing was a massive impediment for travel here,” said Eoghan O’Mara Walsh, chief executive of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (Itic). He said the “feedback” his group had received from several Government departments was that the anomaly was down to a dearth of officially-transmitted data due to the recent hack of the HSE’s IT systems.

Mr O’Mara Walsh called for the Government to intervene with the ECDC to officially update its travel advice map in relation to Ireland.

Earlier on Tuesday, senior management at Aer Lingus told TDs and Senators at an Oireachtas committee meeting that the issue had been an "own goal" for Ireland. The airline's director of corporate affairs, Donal Moriarty, said the issue had "deterred people" from making bookings and said the airline had been in contact with Government. When asked by Fianna Fáil senator Timmy Dooley if he knew for certain it was in relation to the HSE hack, Mr Moriarty replied it "probably" was the case.

Fine Gael’s Kieran O’Donnell, the committee chairman, said it would write to the Government to find out “exactly why this happened”.

It is understood that the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Irish Embassy in Washington may have made representations to US authorities to update Ireland’s grading on the US map. The department had not yet responded to a request for comment.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times