Are we there yet? Are we there yet?
No, but for the first time in more than 15 months it is starting to look as if we might be there soon. Some more bumps in the road are possible over the next six weeks or so, but, all going well, non-essential travel into and out of Ireland looks set to resume on July 19th so, to borrow a phrase from the Taoiseach Micheál Martin, "we are finally taking steps towards enjoying normal times".
What is so special about July 19th?
That’s when the EU-wide digital green certificate scheme will be rolled out in Ireland, allowing people who are fully vaccinated or who have had and recovered from Covid-19 able to travel abroad without having to take a PCR test. They will also be able to avoid hotel quarantine if that is still in place and will not have to quarantine at home either. It means that people from other countries who are similarly vaccinated or recovered should be able to visit Ireland without a negative test or the need for mandatory hotel quarantine too.
What about children?
The EU has no vaccine options on the table for children yet although the European Medical Agency has just approved the Pfizer jab for the over 12s . It will be some time before children get access to the vaccine so different rules will apply when it comes to travelling with young people.
Different countries will take different approaches. Spain, for instance, has outlined that it will allow under-sixes travelling with fully vaccinated parents to come and go without any impediments; older children will need a negative PCR test.
So will I be able to go abroad this summer, then?
Foreign holidays are certainly possible in late July and August – and that is not something we would have been able to say even two months ago.
What has changed to make it possible all of a sudden?
Public-health officials are optimistic about the vaccine rollout and the impact it is having on the pandemic. About 2.4 million injections have now been given here: 1.6 million first doses and 800,000 second doses. Last week between 304,000 and 314,000 people received a Covid-19 vaccine, with up to 280,000 set to get one over the next seven days. The take up is around 90 per cent which is also cause for optimism.
So it will be back to the way we were, will it?
No. According to the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, we can expect a phased return to international travel through the summer months, but it is "not going to be international travel as you knew it". He says to expect "restrictions, requirements around vaccines and testing", as well as different rules for different countries. For his part, Mr Martin said that while he understood "the pent up desire" of many people to travel he stressed the need "to get this right and to make sure that we restore international travel in a safe and sustainable way".
And what about Britain? Wasn’t that to be the first country to open up?
Um, it was. It’s not any more, though. On Friday morning Mr Varadkar said Ireland is “not in a position to restore the Common Travel Area yet” because of “real concerns” about the spread of the Indian variant of the Covid-19 virus in Britain. It now accounts for more than 50 per cent of cases there.
Anything happening to mandatory hotel quarantine?
Yes. More good news on that front with the United States, Belgium, France and Luxembourg all coming off the list. The Tánaiste warned, however, that anyone booking a holiday abroad should recognise that the Covid-19 situation could change and result in their destination becoming a red zone.
What would that mean?
Your two-week jolly overseas might have to be extended to include a two-week stay in a hotel room in Dublin on your return although as it stands that should not happen if travel is confined to the EU.
What’s happening to prices?
Not a whole lot right now. The cost of flights to Spain in August now are much the same as they were at the start of the month, so it doesn’t look as if there has been a mad scramble to get off the island just yet. That could change very quickly, and accommodation options could also book up pretty fast once people feel confident that holidays can happen.
What will airports be like?
If the UK is anything to go by you can expect a lot of queues in the early stages as airport authorities get up and running and airlines get used to processing the QR codes that will be part of the digital green certificates.
So would you book a holiday overseas right now?
Maybe, but not without a whole lot of humming and hawing first. There should also be an acceptance that everything could quickly be turned on its head. A whole lot of ducks need to be lined up before things get back to normal, and it will be a while before all that happens. But at least it does look like we’re getting close to the end.