EU PCR tests plan may deter family holidays abroad, travel agents say

Spain and Portugal favoured amid surge in bookings ahead of July resumption in travel

Passengers at Terminal 1, Dublin Airport. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Passengers at Terminal 1, Dublin Airport. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

 

Travel agents have reported a surge of calls about summer holidays abroad but they say families may be deterred due to European Union plans to require costly PCR tests for children over six.

The head of the Irish Travel Agents’ Association, Pat Dawson, said his members had seen a dramatic increase in calls and inquiries since the Government confirmed that non-essential travel within the EU would be given the green light from July 19th.

Spain and Portugal appear to be of particular interest for people looking to make bookings.

“There has definitely been an upsurge of calls and of bookings without a doubt from July 19th and the difference between now and even a month ago is like chalk and cheese,” Mr Dawson said.

He attributed the growing confidence of would-be holiday makers to the digital green certificate which is set to come into force next month.

It will allow people to travel once they have been vaccinated, have recently recovered from Covid-19 or can produce a negative Covid-19 test.

“A test at home and abroad will add at least €150 on to the cost of a child’s holiday but at least the under-sixes will not need to be tested, so I suppose that is going to help; but there is no doubt that the costs are going to have an impact,” Mr Dawson said.

He reassured people that they would not find it hard to arrange private Covid-19 tests when in popular tourist locations.

“In Spain, for instance, all the medical centres will do walk-in and you can get them done at the airport. They are very well prepared and have been doing this for months and the tests there only cost €50.”

Under proposals published this week by the European Commission, member states can set their own rules for incoming travellers. The guidelines, aimed at harmonising travel rules across the EU countries, mean countries can decide to accept PCR tests as well as antigen tests to allow people to travel without restrictions.

Antigen testing

The Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association (Ialpa) has questioned why the Government is not supporting the rollout of cheaper rapid antigen testing. While a PCR test costs about €100 in Ireland, antigen tests typically cost half that amount.

Ialpa said the Government’s decision to “discount these tests will only serve to further damage the Irish travel and tourism industry at a time when all available tools to enable these industries to recover should be deployed”.

Its spokesman, Capt Alan Brereton, said it was “particularly disappointing given that the scientific evidence shows that rapid antigen testing is appropriate in the travel scenario and also capable of delivering significant public-health benefits”.

He pointed out that preventing those who are infectious from travelling is the primary objective of any travel testing regime. “The European Commission last week purchased 550 million rapid antigen tests at a cost of €2.6 billion specifically for this purpose. In addition, the US and UK governments have embraced the use of rapid antigen tests as a tool in the fight against Covid,” he said.

While momentum appears to be building towards a significant increase in overseas travel in the weeks ahead, the numbers travelling through Dublin Airport remain at historic lows.

According to a DAA spokesman, passenger numbers in the week to last Sunday were down 94 per cent compared with pre-Covid levels for this time of year.

An average of 5,762 passengers came through the airport each day last week. Passenger numbers for a week earlier also averaged fewer than 6,000 each day.