Reports of crammed planes, crowded airports not true, says Government

More than 5,000 tests booked at Dublin and Cork airports since last month

Assistant Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach Liz Canavan at a recent media briefing. File photograph: Julien Behal Photography

Assistant Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach Liz Canavan at a recent media briefing. File photograph: Julien Behal Photography

 

There have not been crowded airports and planes crammed with passengers returning to Ireland for Christmas, the Government said on Friday.

“We have heard the reporting that planes will be crammed and airports will be bustling this coming week but we know that is not the case,” Assistant Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach Liz Canavan said at a media briefing.

Even with passenger volumes at Dublin, Shannon and Cork airports down by 90 per cent on last year, Covid testing capacity has been built up far in advance of expected demand, she added.

At the general briefing on Friday morning, she said more than 5,000 tests have been booked at Dublin and Cork airports since they opened last month, for both pre-departure and post-arrival.

The DAA, which runs both of those airports, has lab access for 12,000 daily tests and the capability of carrying out 3,000 per day at Dublin. But in the run up to Christmas, it is only expecting somewhere in the region of 660 per day, with almost 1,700 on the 23rd.

“However many other commercial providers outside of the airports’ testing facilities are also providing testing for travel purposes adding to these numbers,” the spokeswoman said.

Noting the highly abnormal nature of Christmas this year, she stressed the need for public adherence to health advice in all daily activities and said those who must travel should refamiliarise themselves with rules and expectations.

People intending on travelling to any of the 30 countries in the European traffic light system are asked to exercise a “high degree of caution”.

The spokeswoman said that in relation to forthcoming vaccines, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised caution on the issue of immunity passports.

It will take time to vaccinate the population and there remain knowledge gaps around how long immunity will last, whether the virus can still be transmitted and whether booster shots will be necessary.

“It is premature to discuss immunity passports due to these uncertainties,” she said. “The WHO has cautioned governments against introducing immunity passports at this time and has advised that the focus should be on vaccine certificates” used to track who in the population has been given what specific vaccines and when.

The Government has also addressed concerns around schools, noting publicity over the recent closure of a small number. The spokeswoman said this would be dictated by public health advice alone and stressed that schools remain safe.

The detection rate for Covid in the school system has averaged 2.4 per cent since they reopened earlier this year. This week it is at 3.5 per cent but this remains “significantly lower” than community close contact testing of about 12.5 per cent.

The general 14-day incident rate in Ireland has begun to climb, as has the number of close contacts among those who contract the virus, each case now having an average of 3.8 contacts over the past week.

“Remember if you’re dining out and someone offers you a multiple table booking or extra drinks after your meal they’re not doing you a favour,” the spokeswoman said. “They’re simply increasing the chances that you will end up being the close contact of somebody who tests positive.”

As cautious Christmas activity gets underway, there has been some good news for local businesses - research conducted by the Look For Local campaign has found that 82 per cent of people are now more likely to shop close to home, and the same proportion say they intend to continue doing so.

With many businesses recently reopened, the Government has also moved to reassure people that they can reapply for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) in the New Year if there are further closures.

Last Tuesday, about 306,000 people received the payment, a reduction of 42,000 on the previous week. There are currently 41,000 employers registered for the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme which has paid out over €1 billion in supports to date.

The major focus of Friday’s briefing was on hammering home the message of a safe Christmas.

“In the days ahead please remember that being able to come together is about a mutual trust that we have been avoiding risks in the run up to meeting,” the spokeswoman said.

“As we plan for next week we need to make sure that everyone we plan to mark the day with is comfortable with the arrangements in place for Christmas day. And it’s probably no harm to check in again, especially given the increasing rates of transmission.”

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