Green list: Coalition criticised over confusing advice on travel to and from 15 destinations

Government says ‘safest thing to do is not to travel’ but quarantine not needed for those arriving from selected locations

The Government is due to announce a “green list” of non-quarantine countries this week, but the issue has divided experts and left many consumers confused. Video: Enda O'Dowd

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The Government has been accused of creating confusion by publishing a “green list” of 15 countries deemed as safe to travel to and from during the Covid-19 pandemic, including the likes of Greenland, San Marino and Monaco.

The list was published at midnight following a late-night Cabinet meeting, but the Government said in a statement listing the destinations that “the safest thing to do is not to travel”.

“The pandemic is not over and the public health advice remains the same,” a spokesman said in a statement.

The following countries were deemed as safe for travel with “normal precautions” - Malta, Finland, Norway, Italy, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Slovakia, Greece, Greenland, Gibraltar, Monaco and San Marino.

No quarantine

This means that passengers entering Ireland from these countries will not be required to spend 14 days in quarantine. The 15 locations have rates of coronavirus cases that are similar or lower than that currently in the State.

Several popular destinations for Irish tourists including France, Spain, Portugal, the UK and the US did not, as expected, make it on to the “green list”.

The advice states that all passengers, regardless of the originating country, will have to fill out a Passenger Locator Form to allow for contact tracing after their arrival. Some random coronavirus testing will be conducted for passengers from high risk countries.

The list will be reviewed every fortnight and official advice remains that people should only undertake essential travel.

The Government statement also confirmed there was no change in relation to the policy on travelling to and from Northern Ireland.

Contradictory

Sinn Féin transport spokesman Darren O’Rourke criticised the list, saying it sent out contradictory and confusing messages.

“We now have a ‘green list’ that identifies countries that people can travel to and from without the need to quarantine, but advice against all non-essential foreign travel appears to remain in place. This makes very little sense and sends a very mixed message at a critical time in our Covid-19 response,” he said.

Róisín Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats, described the list as “meaningless” as the advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team was that no non-essential travel should be undertaken.

The Cabinet meeting began at 8.45pm and followed obvious divisions in the Government on Tuesday over the travel plans, with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar criticising mixed messages from his own Government.

Senior sources on Tuesday night conceded there were divisions and confusion within Government on the subject.

Mr Varadkar on Tuesday suggested if there was not a very clear message around the policy “then we would be better off not having a green list”.

Speaking as he arrived at Dublin Castle, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris denied there were any splits within Cabinet on the proposal.

He said during the Covid-19 crisis all three parties in Government “pull together regardless of political persuasion”. He also said that clarity was needed in relation to international travel.

The list of safe countries was proposed in June by the Fine Gael-led government, when Mr Varadkar was taoiseach, at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic seemed to be receding and many EU countries were reopening their borders.

Reproduction rate

With the reproduction rate of the virus having increased in many countries during July, Fianna Fáil and Green Ministers raised doubts at a Cabinet meeting last Wednesday about the advisability of proceeding with a list where people (including Irish tourists) arriving from certain countries with low virus levels will not be subject to quarantine of 14 days.

Ministers from the two parties argued there was an inherent contradiction in publishing a list at a time when the official advice was not to undertake any unnecessary travel abroad.

“The Tánaiste believes strongly that it’s wrong to send out mixed messages about international travel,” a statement issued by Mr Varadkar’s spokesman said.

“The Tánaiste believes there should be a green list as was previously agreed by the Government but if the travel advice for countries on the green list isn’t different to advice for other countries, then we would be better off not having a green list.”

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