Will we be able to go abroad this summer? Here’s what we know right now

As EU countries agree to allow non-essential visits for fully vaccinated travellers, we look at what that means for travel to and from Ireland

Foreign holidays: don’t book anything non-refundable just yet. Photograph: iStock/Getty

Foreign holidays: don’t book anything non-refundable just yet. Photograph: iStock/Getty

 

Are we there yet?
No, not just yet. When it comes to non-essential international travel we still don’t have exact confirmation of when we will be there. There are many moving parts and different voices demanding to be heard that it is still hard to confirm when we will be coming or going. However, news from Brussels on Wednesday suggested that we may have some clarity in the coming week. 

What news from Brussels?
On Wednesday morning, European Union countries agreed to reopen their borders to other nations and travellers.  Vaccinated travellers arriving into the EU will not have to quarantine nor will people from countries that have controlled the Covid outbreak, with a 14-day case rate of less than 75 per 100,000. The new rules could be formally approved later this week. The new rules replace a blanket ban on non-essential travel.

So back to these moving parts, what are they?
First, there is the level of Covid-19 transmission in Ireland. Then there’s the pace of the vaccine roll-out here. You also have to factor in the level of transmission in the country you want to visit and the pace of its vaccine roll-out – not to mention travel bubbles, quarantine rules, digital green certs, variants of concern, anti-Covid measures here and there, flight availability, travel insurance, and how long your passport might take to replace if it has expired.

Okay. So, at the risk of repeating myself, when can I get off this island?Again, that depends on all the factors above and on who you listen to and when you listen to them. According to Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar, it will be “August at the earliest” before we can travel again internationally for non-essential reasons.

Did he not say we could forget about 2021 not long ago?
He did, as it happens. In January he effectively wrote off international travel for the rest of the year. So, you know, things can change. Varadkar has pointed out that almost two-thirds of Irish adults have yet to be vaccinated and expressed concern about new variants of Covid-19 that could slow the reopening of international travel.

What kind of metrics is the Government using to decide on travel?
This is one of the things that continue to frustrate the travel industry. With shops now reopening, and hotels looking forward to welcoming guests in early June, there is still nothing by way of a roadmap for the reopening of the island for international-travel purposes – although there could be some clarity on that in the near future.

What does “near future” mean?
On Monday, sources were saying a memo detailing plans for a phased resumption of international travel would be brought to Cabinet within 24 hours. Now that’s unlikely to happen until next week.

Covid safe: people who have been fully vaccinated, have recovered from Covid-19 or have a valid negative PCR test should be allowed to travel across the EU by late July or early August. Photograph: E+/iStock/Getty
Covid safe: people who have been fully vaccinated, have recovered from Covid-19 or have a valid negative PCR test should be allowed to travel across the EU by late July or early August. Photograph: E+/iStock/Getty

What are other people saying?
Minister for European Affairs Thomas Byrne expressed optimism that people would be able to travel abroad this summer once the European Union’s digital green certificate initiative is established. “I am very optimistic, and I can tell you, you will be able to travel at some point, but I wouldn’t be booking something yet that’s non-refundable,” he said.

Remind me again what the digital green cert is
It is an EU-wide certificate that holds no personal data but confirms that the holder is vaccinated or immune, or has tested negative for Covid-19. States will hold the information on national directories that they will exchange through a European Commission system, in order to verify each other’s certs.

Sounds good. How is the implementation going?
It’s not in place yet. The plan is that it will be good to go by the middle of next month, after which EU member states will have six weeks to implement it. All going well, people who have been fully vaccinated, have recovered from Covid-19 or have a valid negative PCR test should be allowed to travel across the EU by late July or early August.

How can I prove I have recovered from the illness or been vaccinated?
Vaccinated travellers will need details of the vaccine they received, the number of doses and the date of vaccination. Travellers with negative tests will need to have the type of test, the date and time of test, the test centre and the result. And travellers who have recovered from the virus will need the date of the positive test result, an issuer of the certificate, date of issuance and validity date.

So do I need all this paperwork?
No. It will all be done digitally.

Does this mean I can book a foreign holiday for August?
That might be a bad idea. Certainly don’t book a nonrefundable holiday.

Where are we with mandatory hotel quarantine?
That is likely to be with us for a while yet, although the number of countries on the list is falling. Most, if not all, EU countries are set to drop off it in the near future. Countries where Covid variants of concern are spreading will see restrictions imposed. All passengers arriving in Ireland must still have a negative pre-departure Covid-19 test, and people from countries that are not on the mandatory-hotel-quarantine list must self-isolate at home for two weeks.

And where are we likely to be able to go first?
The smart money is betting that the Common Travel Area – Ireland, Britain, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man – will be our first international corridor to reopen. After that parts of the EU should open to us, and maybe the United States, depending on how their vaccination programmes are rolling out.

When should we know more?
A lot will depend on what the report that Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin will present to the Cabinet from a tourism advisory group says.

What exactly is this report?
Put together by the Recovery Oversight Group for Tourism, it wants to see a plan outlining when travel restrictions will be eased to allow for tourists to visit Ireland again. Easing restrictions on UK visitors would also effectively allow Irish residents to holiday in Britain too. This would be outside any EU green certificate scheme. Inessential travel between Britain and Northern Ireland has resumed under UK rules, so visitors from the UK can effectively travel throughout the island anyway.

Summer sun: the so-called Indian variant of Covid-19 could affect reopening plans. Photograph: E+/iStock/Getty
Summer sun: the so-called Indian variant of Covid-19 could affect reopening plans. Photograph: E+/iStock/Getty

Are there any clouds on the horizon?
We are living in Covid times. There are always clouds on the horizon. A big one is the so-called Indian variant of Covid-19. UK scientists say it could be 50 per cent more transmissible than the so-called Kent or UK strain, which was much more transmissible than the original variant.

But the Indian variant is not here, right?
Wrong. As of last weekend Ireland had more than 40 confirmed cases. In the UK the number of cases of the new variant more than doubled in a week, from 520 to more than 1,300. That might slow the reopening of the UK – or even change Boris Johnson’s plans completely.

Has Ryanair got anything to say?
As one of the biggest airlines in Europe, Ryanair has considerable skin in the game. It wants the removal of all travel restrictions from the end of May for air travel between Ireland and both the UK and other EU countries. “Thanks to the success of the UK’s vaccine program, there is no justification for requiring visitors to Ireland from the UK (our major visitor market) to quarantine,” says Ryanair’s chief executive, Eddie Wilson.

Anything else?
Irish people are booking sun holidays while the Government continues with “stupid and ineffective” Covid travel curbs, Michael O’Leary, who now heads the airline’s parent company, Ryanair Holdings, said this week. Speaking to industry analysts after Ryanair reported an €815 million loss, he warned that the Government’s failure to plan for air travel’s recovery would leave the Republic lagging the rest of Europe. “Irish people are already booking their holidays in Spain and Portugal for June and July,” he said.

Are they?
It is hard to say. Anyone booking for the early summer months is taking a huge gamble. As well as risking having their holidays cancelled – and possibly contracting Covid while they are away – they could also face heavy fines if they are stopped by the Garda on the way to the airport without a valid reason for travel.

So, would you book a holiday somewhere sunny for this summer?
Does Kerry count as sunny?

At the risk of making me sad, can you tell me what is happening across the Irish Sea?
Since the start of the week, UK holidaymakers have been able to travel to 12 countries on the British government’s green list, including Portugal, Israel and, um, the Falkand Islands without having to isolate when they come home.

So when will we see overseas tourists coming to Ireland  again?
Later this week officials will work on a draft “white list” of non-EU countries that present a low risk of spreading the disease. With infection numbers in the United States dropping significantly, on the back of mass vaccinations, the US is likely to make it to the list.

And what if things get worse all of a sudden?
As part of any new rules there will be an  emergency brake to allow member states re-impose travel bans on countries where risky new variants emerge or contagion rates spike.