Can I go on a holidays outside of Ireland now?
Well, we’d not be stuffing our suitcase full of shorts and T-shirts and buying the sun cream just yet if we were you. While there has been some movement – or at least the promise of some movement – on where we might be able to travel, as it stands there are still significant restrictions in place when it comes to overseas travel. And we still don’t really know if we are coming or going.
But I thought this week was supposed to be when the world was opened up to us?
There has certainly been some talk of that in recent weeks, but as the Taoiseach Micheál Martin set out the Government’s medium-term Living with Covid-19 plan on Tuesday morning, it started to become clear that the opening up of the country is only going to happen slowly. We have a long, long way to travel before we are even close to being back to where we were this time last year.
What do you mean?
Well, for starters the Government’s so-called “green list” of countries – the places where people can visit without facing significant movement restrictions on their return – will not be updated until next Monday.
Monday is not too far away, I suppose. Will there be a load more countries on the new list?
Yes. And no. Mostly no, to be honest with you. There are some countries which will be added to the green list next week but there are also some countries which will taken off it. At the end of the day the number of countries we will be able to visit with a thumbs up from the Department of Foreign Affairs will be only slightly longer than it is today.
Okay, so give me the good news first?
Right you are. There are six new countries likely to be added to the green list next week. They are – in no particular order – Germany, Sweden, Poland, Iceland, Cyprus and Liechtenstein. Meanwhile Finland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia will remain on the green list.
And the bad news?
There are likely to be five countries that are currently on the list that will be removed as the incidence of Covid-19 in each of them has increased. Those countries are Italy, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia and Norway.
Hang on, who decides what countries are on the list anyway?
The way things are going to work from Monday is that the green list will be updated weekly and feature countries with a 14-day Covid-19 incidence of under 25 people per 100,000 of population. The data used will come from the European Centre for Disease Control.
Every week? What happens if I happen to be in Greece or Italy and that country suddenly goes off the list?
That is a worry for sure. As it stands travellers returning from the countries that were on the green list one week and then taken off it will have to restrict their movements on return.
And we will get these updates on Mondays?
Actually, we will get the updates on Thursdays and then the update will take effect on the Monday. So if you are in the market for a trip Thursdays will be the days to watch.
Are we being encouraged to travel to the countries on the new green list now?
No. The official advice remains that overseas travel is probably best avoided for now as the pandemic is still a long way from being under control, but the security status of the countries on the green list will change on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) website and get downgraded from “avoid non-essential travel” to “normal precautions”.
Is that DFA security status important?
It certainly is. The DFA 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 countries on the list it is a big shift and – all things being equal – should mean that people who travel there will still have the protection offered to them by travel insurance.
What do you mean by that?
As it stands anyone who travels to a country contrary to official advice invalidates whatever travel insurance they have, so at least now anyone who goes to Germany will be covered by their travel insurance.
So the green list is likely to be with us for the long term?
No, far from it in fact. We are likely to have the list for little over a month. After that, and all going well, the list will be replaced by an EU-wide traffic light system.
What is that?
Under the new system, which is still to be devised, green-coloured countries will cover territories where the number of cases is less than 25 per 100,000 people over a 14-day period and where the percentage of positive tests is less than 3 per cent. Countries will be coloured orange if they have less than 50 cases per 100,000. Countries will be red if they exceed that number of cases.
And which countries will I be able to travel to?
It looks like countries on the green and amber lists will be open to Irish passengers. People travelling from red countries will have to quarantine for 14 days after their return or will have to have a Covid-19 test to show they are negative.
What countries are likely to remain off limits?
Right now only a handful of EU countries – including Hungary, Romania, Croatia, France and Spain – will remain largely inaccessible to Irish people in the weeks ahead based on current Covid-19 case numbers.
When will the traffic-light system be ready?
The precise details of the EU traffic light system will be agreed upon at an EU Council of Ministers meeting on October 15th.
How has the news of the changes been greeted?
Lukewarm is probably the best way to describe the response so far. The head of the Irish Travel Agents Association, Pat Dawson, has expressed disappointment at the announcement and described it as “wishy washy”.
Yes. He said there was “not much more clarity today than there was yesterday”, and he suggested that the Government had “just kicked the can down the road until the the middle of October when the EU rules will be finalised”.
Well, at least one airline was pleased with the announcement. In a statement Aer Lingus said it had noted the Government’s announcement of its intention to implement the European Commission’s proposed co-ordinated approach to travel within the European Union, European Economic area and UK. “The commission’s recommendation represents a sensible approach to safely enabling international travel. We look forward to the early and complete implementation of the commission’s recommended approach.”
But all of this is other counties and their colour coding. What about if Ireland is on the red list?
What indeed. It is certainly very possible. At the time of writing the rate of Covid-19 in this country was hovering around the 50 mark. If it continues to climb than all the talk of the opening up of the EU to Irish travellers will be moot as we won’t be let in anywhere else anyway – or at least we won’t without having to quarantine which will make the entire exercise just a little futile. Although at least we would have some element of control and if we collectively got the spread of the disease under control then we might all be able to travel a gain.
Tell me one more thing. All the focus is on the EU. But what about other countries?
What indeed? We have put this question to the Government and asked why people cannot apparently travel to countries elsewhere on the planet where the rate of Covid-10 is very low, and have yet to get a satisfactory – or, indeed, any – answer. It is probably fair to say that the authorities are very much taking a slowly slowly approach to foreign travel.