Open Ireland as soon as possible - Tourism chief warns of 'catastrophic' impact of pandemic

Fáilte Ireland boss to tell Dáil committee virus ‘dwarfs all previous crises’ for his sector

People are flying again from Irish airports, but in small numbers. There are 200 flights in and out of Dublin Airport today. This time last year that figure was approximately 800. Video: Bryan O'Brien


Fáilte Ireland will call today for the country to reopen to overseas tourists “as soon and as fast as public health considerations can allow” to help the tourism sector recover from Covid-19.

Paul Kelly, chief executive of the tourism agency, will tell the Dáil Covid-19 committee that the pandemic’s impact on tourism has been “catastrophic” and “dwarfs all previous crises”.

He will say that the 14-day self-isolation period for tourists “effectively closes Ireland to all overseas visitors” and recovery in the industry will be hampered by the “complete absence and slow rebuild of over 70 per cent revenue” that comes from overseas visitors.

“We simply must find a way to facilitate the planning for and the re-opening of access for overseas tourism as soon and as fast as public health considerations can allow,” Mr Kelly will say.

The tourism chief will tell TDs that the sector, which employs one in nine people, has incurred well over €1 billion in “unavoidable costs” with “four months of no revenue” during the lockdown.

The warning from the State tourism authority came as the Government said there were still significant risks with overseas travel, linking it to at least six new Covid-19 cases this week.

The Department of Health announced a further three deaths from the coronavirus disease and six further confirmed cases, bringing the death toll to 1,738 and known cases to 25,477.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said 31 cases of Covid-19 in June were associated with travel, or 5 per cent of the 550 new cases identified last month.

Dr Glynn said the balance of keeping the disease suppressed and reopening society and business would “continue to be challenging”.

The number of daily flights in and out of Dublin Airport doubled to 200 yesterday from earlier this week as Ryanair resumed 40 per cent of its flights schedule.

The Government said it planned to finalise a “roadmap” for safe overseas travel “very shortly”, despite State chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan calling on people to avoid non-essential travel and cancel foreign holidays to avoid importing cases of the disease.

Doctors have raised concerns about reopening the country to foreign travel.

The infectious diseases specialist, who wrote a report on the first known case of unknown Covid-19 community transmission in Ireland – a 43-year-old man who died after 27 days on a ventilator – said opening up to international travel poses “a very big risk at the moment”.

Medic’s warning

Cork University Hospital consultant Dr Corinna Sadlier said she was “very worried” that a quarter of new cases last week were travel-related. She raised doubts about “how feasible” it is for people to self-isolate for 14 days on their return from a week’s holiday overseas.

“People need to be very sensible and responsible and I think where they can forego travel overseas, they should,” she said.

She warned against people becoming complacent and allowing the number of cases to increase again, raising the risk of a second wave of the disease and the need for another lockdown.

Dr Catherine Motherway, an intensive care specialist in Limerick, said she felt it was “a bit early” to be dropping advice against foreign travel given the “very frightening” increases in cases in the United States and “pockets” of infections emerging in other countries.

Meanwhile, new figures show that at least 79 patients died after contracting Covid-19 while in hospital. HSE data released to Green Party TD Ossian Smyth in reply to a parliamentary question, indicated that 265 patients caught the virus while being treated in hospital for other conditions.

In total, 3,285 hospitalised patients were confirmed with Covid-19 up to June 23rd. The total number of deaths in hospitalised patients was 671, or one in five who had the disease.

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