Government criticised for mixed messages on overseas travel

Authorities unlikely to tell airlines to cancel flights or ban foreign travel

A passenger in the departures area of Terminal 1 at Dublin Airport. Photograph: Alan Betson

A passenger in the departures area of Terminal 1 at Dublin Airport. Photograph: Alan Betson

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The Government will strengthen its warnings about travelling abroad but is unlikely to tell airlines to cancel flights or ban foreign travel, despite warnings from senior public health officials about the dangers of holidaymakers coming here or returning from trips abroad.

Senior health officials will brief Ministers on Thursday, and the Cabinet committee on Covid-19 is due to meet on Friday, ahead of a full Cabinet meeting next Monday that will decide whether to ease the 14-day quarantine.

Despite officials’ concern about the effects of easing the travel restrictions, there is pressure from airlines and the tourist industry to relax the requirement for incoming travellers to quarantine for 14 days after their arrival in Ireland. Officials are also concerned that the quarantine requirement is not effectively enforced in many cases.

It emerged last night that not every passenger arriving into the country is receiving a follow-up call to check that they are self-isolating for 14 days following their arrival into the State.

The Department of Justice said that since early last week it has only been in a position to make 60 to 70 per cent of the follow-up calls to passengers arriving into the State to check up on their 14-day quarantine because of the increase in passenger numbers arriving.

‘Large cohort’

The department said Covid-19 Passenger Locator Forms, which passengers are required to fill out, are randomly selected and a “large cohort” from every flight but not every passenger is called.

Figures released last week show that of the follow-up calls made between May 28th and June 21st more than a third of calls to passengers contacted in follow-up calls went unanswered.

The department said that as the passenger numbers increase significantly over the coming days, the task of making the follow-up calls will fall to the HSE as the department’s border management unit “will need to focus exclusively on their core function of immigrating passengers.”

Some want the Government to cancel flights, so that people who have booked holidays abroad can be compensated. On Tuesday the Irish Travel Agents Association chief executive Pat Dawson said that giving permission to fly and yet saying not to fly was unfair.

Government advice is currently not to travel abroad, but it is expected this will be relaxed after July 9th.

Sources said that if people chose to go abroad, they should be aware that the quarantine requirements could change while they are on holidays if the rate of pandemic infections increases.

‘Holiday at home’

On Tuesday night the new Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin encouraged people to holiday in Ireland. She said that the advice of the chief medical officer “right now . . . is to continue with existing travel restrictions. In the meantime I would encourage people to take this time to holiday at home and enjoy the wonderful natural, cultural and outdoor recreational amenities that our own country has to offer.”

Meanwhile, EU member states yesterday approved a list of 15 countries around the world that are deemed safe for travel, agreeing that member states should open their borders to them for all travel from Wednesday.

Unusually among EU member states, Ireland is not part of the agreement because it is not in the Schengen area of free travel and has a Common Travel Area with the United Kingdom.

Ireland was invited to take part in the joint agreement, but could only do so if Britain also agreed due to the open Border, and it opted not to do so, The Irish Times understands. Denmark is also opting out.

The countries deemed safe are: Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.

China is also to be included, as long as Beijing agrees that EU citizens will also be allowed to travel there in turn.

The United States was not included due to pervasive level of coronavirus infections there.

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