Irish people abroad should not book flights home for Christmas yet, Varadkar says

Ryanair condemns Tánaiste’s comments, says people can travel under EU ‘traffic light’ system

November 12th, 2020: Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has advised Irish people based abroad not to book flights home for Christmas at the moment due to the ongoing Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has advised Irish people intending to come home from abroad for Christmas not to book their flights at the moment.

Mr Varadkar said in the Dáil on Thursday: “I know that’s difficult. I know that’s tough but Christmas is six weeks away and it’s too soon for people to be booking flights to come home.”

The Tánaiste said he had been watching Reeling in the Years, the RTÉ television programme that showcases events from years gone by. “In 1967 there was a foot and mouth outbreak in England and people were asked not to come and they didn’t and foot and mouth didn’t come to Ireland.

“I’m not saying it’s the same but certainly we’re not in the position at this point to advise people that it’s safe to come home for Christmas.

“I know that’s a tough message to hear but that is the case at the moment.”

He was responding during Leaders’ Question to Social Democrats joint leader Róisín Shortall.

She said that in the event of large numbers of people arriving in Ireland needing to take a Covid-19 test within five days of arrival, a significant number of those people were likely to test positive, and she asked if the Government was satisfied it had the capacity to deal with this. She also wanted to know the level of modelling that had been done.

Mr Varadkar said some modelling had been done about the possibility of a third wave of Covid-19 in January.

“I don’t know exactly to what extent international modelling feeds into that,” he said, adding that he would have to check that out.

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Traffic light system

The Cabinet has already agreed that arrivals from EU “red” countries - under the EU traffic light system for travel which Ireland has signed up to - will not have to restrict their movements for a full 14 days from midnight on November 29th if they produce a negative PCR test at least five days after their arrival.

The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test is considered the gold standard in testing for Covid-19.

Under the EU traffic light system anyone from a “green” country will not have to take a test. Those from an amber region should have a negative test before they get on the aeroplane.

“Where implications might arise is for people coming from a red zone,” and if they test positive. “That’s what we have to work on,” Mr Varadkar said.

Ryanair condemned Mr Varadkar’s suggestion that people should not booking flights home for Christmas yet. The airline said he should “confirm his support” for the EU traffic light system, which it says allows Irish people with a negaitive Covid-19 test, taken three days prior to arrival, to return home and allows EU citizens living in Ireland to travel to their home countries.

“Aviation is a critical part of national infrastructure and the Tánaiste, who is responsible for job creation, should be supporting the “Traffic Light” system instead of undermining it,” the company said in a statement.

Testing capacity

Earlier, the Dáil was warned that there was “no certainty of capacity” at airports to meet the demand for Covid-19 tests if increased numbers arrive for Christmas.

Minister of State for Transport Hildegarde Naughton said the daa testing plan for Dublin and Cork airports, “estimates the volumes of about 150 tests per day and ramping that up to 300 per day in total towards the end of the year”.

She added that “the daa have also identified capacity in the private sector testing market of up to 12,000 PCR tests per day”.

But, she said, there is “no certainty of capacity to meet all possible requirements”.

A daa spokesman said later “we will have a capacity of at least 12,000 tests per day in place when we have the testing facilities open in Dublin and Cork next week, rising to 15,000 per day as required”.

The Minister told Sinn Féin transport spokesman Darren O’Rourke that tests would have to be carried out privately to prevent an impact on HSE resources.

At Dublin Airport the tests will be carried out by two private companies with drive-through and walk-through facilities, which she said would be “reasonably priced”.

During transport questions Mr O’Rourke said people would want to know the Government’s advice on foreign travel and on the testing regime at airports for Christmas, pointing out that last year there were 1.2 million passengers at Dublin airport.

He said there was a very significant risk if very large numbers were coming back into the State this year and “it will have significant public health implications given the fact that our passenger locator form and our testing regime are not entirely adequate”.

Ms Naughton said there was a “level of personal responsibility whatever we do here at a national level with the health protocol”.

She said: “We don’t know where we’re going to be in relation to this virus. It’s moving in a really positive direction but you can be assured there is a high-level technical group at Government level who will be watching international travel, assessing this, working with the CMO (Chief Medical Officer) in relation to travel advice”.

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