Green list Q&A: What has changed, where can I go, and who can come here?

Conor Pope looks at what the latest travel advisory means

Greenland is one of the 15 countries on the new Government travel green list. Photograph: Getty Images

Greenland is one of the 15 countries on the new Government travel green list. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Finally, we have white smoke and a green list?

We do, indeed. After weeks of waiting and just a hint of confusion, the Cabinet met on Tuesday night and, shortly before midnight, a list of 15 countries now considered safer to travel to than other countries was published.

And what countries are on the list? The countries which are now deemed safe for travel with “normal precautions” are Malta, Finland, Norway, Italy, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Slovakia, Greece, Greenland, Gibraltar, Monaco and San Marino.

Greenland? Is there much travel between Ireland and Greenland? No, no there is not. Certainly, to the best of our knowledge and unless things have changed dramatically overnight, there are no direct flights from Ireland to Greenland or, indeed to San Marino, Monaco or Gibraltar.

So, if I am traveling to Gibraltar, say, I will have to go via Spain which is not on the list. Or if I fly from Greenland to Dublin via Stockholm will I be okay? Almost certainly not. While we now have some clarity about international travel we still have much confusion. That has been attached to this green list almost since the notion was floated several weeks ago.

Why was in floated in the first place? A list of safe countries or an air bridge was proposed in June by the then Fine Gael-led government. That was when Covid-19 seemed to be on the wane and many EU countries were reopening their borders. The idea at the time was that air bridges would allow holiday makers travel to certain countries with relative safety. But in recent weeks the reproduction rate of the virus has increased in many places and public health officials continue to advise against all non-essential international travel. This has prompted many, including Fianna Fáil and Green ministers, to raise doubts about the advisability of proceeding with a list at all.

But the list is out now. What does it mean? If a country is on the green list it means passengers coming into Ireland from there will not be required to spend 14 days in self isolation or to restrict their movements.

And why these 15 countries? They are ones which have rates of coronavirus cases that are similar or lower than us.

So are we being encouraged to travel to these countries now? Absolutely not. In a statement which accompanied the midnight list, the Government said: “The safest thing to do is not to travel. The pandemic is not over and the public health advice remains the same.”

So nothing has changed then? Actually, there was one significant change overnight. The security status of the 15 countries on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) website has also been downgraded from “avoid non-essential travel” to “normal precautions”. Mind you, on the pages devoted to each of the relevant countries, there is also a warning that a “general Covid-19 travel advisory is in operation” and people are told to “avoid non-essential travel until further notice”, so that’s a bit confusing too.

Is the DFA security status important? It certainly is. The Department of Foreign Affairs has four travel advice categories: “Normal Precautions”, “High degree of caution”, “Avoid non-essential travel” and “Do not travel”. Since March, the world outside Ireland has been categorised as “Avoid non-essential travel”, so for the 15 countries it is a big shift and – all things being equal – should mean that people who travel to those countries will still have the protection offered to them by travel insurance.

What do you mean by that? Well, one of the big fears in recent weeks has been around the level of insurance cover travellers to green list countries would have. As it stands, anyone who travels to a country contrary to official advice invalidates whatever travel insurance they have, but the advice for these countries has now changed…or at least it sort of has.

At the start of this week, Insurance Ireland warned that being on a green list “does not equate to a relaxation of the non-essential travel policy” but the downgrading of the official advice does seem to equate to a relaxation of that official policy – but if you are planning a trip to Greenland this weekend you’d be as well to contact your travel insurance provider to check.

Right, so we have a list that says here are some countries you can go to but don’t go to them. Yes. It’s a Schrödinger’s List of places you can simltaneously travel to and not travel to.

No sign of Spain on the list? No, but that was not a surprise. The most popular country for Irish holiday makers did not make it over the line as a result of concerns about a rise in the rate of infections there. France, Portugal, the UK and the US, which are all pretty popular for Irish travellers, did not make it either.

Anything else? Yes, the new advice makes it clear that that all passengers, no matter what country they are flying in from will still have to fill out a Passenger Locator Form to allow for contact tracing after their arrival. Plus tighter controls are to be implemented on passengers travelling between countries not on the “green list” – with random testing for Covid-19. At present, arrivals in Ireland only have to fill in a passenger locator form and agree to self-isolate for a fortnight. And is the green list now set in stone? No. It will reviewed every fortnight, so there is a possibility that a person might travel to a green list country one weekend only to find it off the green list before they return home. When The Irish Times has asked Government sources where this would leave travellers, the answer was not entirely clear. How has the list been received? Not entirely well by political opposition. The Sinn Féin transport spokesman Darren O’Rourke said it sent out sent out contradictory and confusing messages, while Róisín Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats, described it as “meaningless” as the advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team was that no non-essential travel should be undertaken.

But flights are already taking off and landing in Ireland right? They are. The country was never hermetically sealed. But less than a quarter of the flights that would normally fly into and out of Ireland are doing so and passenger numbers are down by in excess of 90 per cent.

Will people from the countries on the list now come to Ireland? They are certainly more likely to do so now that they do not have to self-isolate or restrict their movements upon arrival. While much of the focus of the conversation is on Irish people going to other countries, international travel works both ways. Ireland is a pretty popular destination for people in at least some of the countries on the list. And are we open to having tourists here? To say things are strange right now is an understatement and many people are as afraid of tourists coming in to Ireland as they are of leaving Irelad themseelves. Having said that, the tourism market is in just as much disarray in Rome as in Roscommon so the notion that simply because they are now on a green list, we will seen a massive surge in visitors from Italy or Greece in the days ahead seems somewhat unlikely. People tend to make their holiday plans weeks if not months in advance and – just as here – the appetite for international travel is not great in most countries. So are we done with talk of overseas travel for now? Don’t bet on it.