More than 1,600 queries on new travel restrictions in first week

Oireachtas Committee on Transport will hear from the Department of Transport on the drop in air and sea passengers to Ireland

Ireland’s embassy in Pretoria, South Africa,  has engaged directly with around 200 citizens and family members who have been attempting to secure flights back to Ireland. Photograph: Getty Images

Ireland’s embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, has engaged directly with around 200 citizens and family members who have been attempting to secure flights back to Ireland. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The Department of Foreign Affairs has handled more than 1,600 calls and emails on the new restrictions on travel into Ireland in the week since they were introduced.

Officials will also tell TDs and Senators that Ireland’s embassy network in southern Africa has responded to hundreds of queries from people seeking to return home amid flight bans imposed due to the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The Oireachtas Committee on Transport will also hear from the Department of Transport on the drop in air and sea passengers to Ireland due to the pandemic, and the Department of Justice will give an update on its agencies’ involvement in conducting checks of health documentation at Dublin Airport.

Travel rules were tightened at the start of the month with a requirement on passengers coming from seven southern African countries to home quarantine on arrival to Ireland.

And from December 5th all passengers arriving to Ireland must show proof of a professionally-administered negative antigen or PCR test.

Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs will tell the Transport Committee on Wednesday that its consular teams are dealing with a high volume of calls and emails from citizens concerned about their travel plans or how restrictions will affect loved ones returning to Ireland.

It set up a dedicated helpline on December 2nd, and since then it has handled more than 1,100 calls and the department has responded to over 500 emails.

Ireland’s embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, has engaged directly with around 200 citizens and family members who have been attempting to secure flights back to Ireland.

“Flights are now starting to resume and many of the affected citizens have returned to Ireland,” the officials will tell the committee.

The politicians will also hear how a Ryanair aircraft was chartered by the department to repatriate 156 Irish, EU and UK citizens from Morocco after a travel ban on all inward and outward flights was imposed there in response to the new Covid-19 variant.

Restrictions

Department of Transport assistant secretary Fintan Towey will tell the committee that air passenger numbers dropped 80 per cent in 2020 on pre-pandemic levels.

Public health travel restrictions and the introduction of mandatory quarantine meant that between January and June 2021 passenger levels were also down approximately 80 per cent.

Non-essential travel reopened on July 19th through the use of an enhanced passenger locator form and the EU Digital Covid Certificate (DCC) and in mid-September passenger numbers were up 200 per cent.

However, the slower winter season has seen numbers fall again, and airports are still only operating at between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

He will say that sea passenger numbers are still around 40 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.

Mr Towey will say that the department engaged with air and sea carriers on the introduction of the requirement that all arrivals to Ireland produce evidence of a negative Covid-19 test. The department told them of the additional requirements to carry out pre-boarding checks for compliance.

Documentation

Department of Justice deputy secretary Oonagh Buckley will tell TDs and Senators that its Border Management Unit (BMU) has an important role in conducting checks of health documentation including DCCs and negative Covid-19 test results.

All passengers arriving into Ireland were checked for health documentation prior to July 19th. However, spot checking was implemented after that to avoid long queues at immigration.

Ms Buckley will say that spot-checking has been expanded to include PCR and antigen tests in line with the latest travel restrictions.

Her opening statement says: “The BMU has significantly increased the level of spot-checking of arriving passengers in recent days – both at peak and non-peak times. It is important to say that this increased spot-checking has not resulted in any significant increase in detections of non-compliance.

“We know that the compliance rate is very high, and we thank the travelling public for their co-operation with this.”