Health officials ‘very concerned’ about foreign travel, says Donnelly

Minister warns against international holidays as Covid-19 situation remains volatile

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly: “We need to get this right. Caution is a good thing in our approach.”

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly: “We need to get this right. Caution is a good thing in our approach.”

 

Public health officials are “very concerned” that increased international travel will lead to a second wave of coronavirus in Ireland, Minster for Health Stephen Donnelly has said.

The newly appointed Fianna Fáil Minister said the Covid-19 pandemic internationally has become “quite volatile” with just over one million of the 10 million cases being recorded in the past week with a big increase in infections in France, Portugal and Spain in the last two weeks.

France had reported 6,000 new cases over the past 14 days, while Spain and Portugal had each reported 5,000 new cases. This compares with 165 new cases in Ireland during that time.

Foreign travel now accounts for 17 per cent of new cases, an increase from about 2 per cent of cases in recent weeks, Mr Donnelly said.

This was making the Government take the issue of lifting its public advice against taking foreign holidays “very seriously,” the Minister told The Irish Times.

Green list

The Government was still advising the public that non-essential travel should be avoided and that it will discuss this week and early next week how travel could resume safely by looking at whether overseas countries could be put on a “green list” if they have low levels of infection.

The EU plan for a green list of countries considered safe for non-essential travel is to be updated every two weeks based on average cases over 14 days. It provided “a solid blueprint” for how Ireland might operate its own list but that the Government “may choose to augment that,” Mr Donnelly said.

He has said that the Cabinet may decide to change the proposed date of July 9th when it has previously said that it would start easing foreign travel restrictions.

Mr Donnelly pointed out the complications with the list where Portugal would three weeks ago have been on a green list but today would not because of the recent increase in new infections.

The Minister said that the fact that Ireland is an island affords a “great natural protection” against the importation of new cases and that this was “part of our arsenal in fighting this disease.”

“We are an island. We can handle the cases here and it has been handled incredibly well by the incredible response from the whole nation,” he said.

“But the reality is the virus came here from abroad and if we are to see a big second wave, the public health officials believe that there is a high likelihood that that is where it will come from.”

The minister recognised that resuming foreign travel was a “serious issue” for people.

Booked holidays

“There are a lot of people who have booked holidays an awfully long time ago who will have been looking forward to going away, who might have been holding on to that as part of dealing with the lock-in and the people need clarity,” he said.

“We fully understand that and indeed the business community is looking for things to be opened as well.”

The issue of refunds for booked holidays and flights was “best directed to somebody else” and “not really a health question,” he said.

He defended the handling of the guidance around foreign travel and denied that there were contradictions between the Government saying that they were looking at resuming safe foreign travel and the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan advising against overseas holidays.

“I don’t think it is mixed messages. The Taoiseach was talking about publishing a green list in line with public health advice and the chief medical officer was expressing his very serious concern about a big increase in foreign travel,” said Mr Donnelly.

“What the chief medical officer was voicing quite rightly was his view on the risks associated with this and, as he has said, he is very concerned.”

The Minister said the issue of foreign travel would be discussed at a Cabinet subcommittee tomorrow and by the Cabinet on Monday. The State’s National Public Health Emergency Team would also be considering the issue when they meet today, he said.