EU permit on air travel may not be in general use until August – Ryan

Minister warns that return to international air transport must not be ‘stop-start exercise’

Eamon Ryan: ‘I am confident that Ireland will in due course be in a position to join the European digital green certificate for international travel in Europe.’ File photograph: The Irish Times

Eamon Ryan: ‘I am confident that Ireland will in due course be in a position to join the European digital green certificate for international travel in Europe.’ File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has warned of the need to ensure that a return to international air travel is “not a stop-start exercise”.

He said the Government wants to make sure the vaccination programme is rolled out to keep the number of coronavirus cases low to facilitate a return to travel “as part of a normal existence”.

Ireland is expected to implement the EU green digital certificate in mid-July but Mr Ryan suggested it might not be fully operational across Europe until the following month.

“Given that the digital green certificate might not be in widespread use until at least mid-August, it would not seem reasonable to expect fully vaccinated people to wait for the digital green certificate before allowing freedom from current pre-arrival PCR and quarantine requirements,” said Mr Ryan.

He was speaking as he outlined in the Dáil proposals for return of non-essential aviation and implementation of the EU system to permit travel for the fully vaccinated

“I am confident that Ireland will in due course be in a position to join the European digital green certificate for international travel in Europe and certain third countries where the risk is low,” he said.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said it was “full steam ahead” with the EU system and the expectation is that Ireland will adopt the system by mid-July.

It will be formally adopted by the EU on June 1st, will enter into force on July 1st and member states will have six weeks to achieve compliance by mid-August at the latest.

Under the system the certificate, supplied free in digital or paper format, will allow the holder to travel freely through the EU if they have been vaccinated against the virus, had a negative PCR result, or had the virus in the previous six months.

Mr Ryan said “our own system is substantially developed” and is compliant with EU standards.

He added that the European approach to the certificate will see easing of restrictions on non-essential travel “while addressing variants through a new EU wide emergency brake mechanism”.

There was a need for pragmatism on mandatory hotel quarantine and on PCR testing “to allow for an early discontinuation of these public health requirements for fully vaccinated people” but it depended on the impact of variants and vaccination.

He added that “each week we have seen countries being removed from the list of specified countries for variants of concern under the mandatory hotel quarantine regime. This is a positive sign.”

Analysis indicates that it will take until 2025 to get back to the same level of traffic as in 2019.

Collapse in air travel

Across the EU flights were down by 60 per cent with five million in 2020 compared to 11 million the previous year.

In Ireland passenger numbers were down to 3 per cent with a collapse and Mr Ryan acknowledged a “strong likelihood” major employers will have to cut costs further unless the Government signals an easing of restrictions.

Sinn Féin transport spokesman Darren O’Rourke said the safe return to international travel “will have to be carefully planned and managed. No one wants to risk the gains and huge sacrifices we have made in recent months.”

Labour transport spokesman Duncan Smith said “it genuinely feels there is some light at the end of the tunnel” with the EU certificate. “This is where the rubber meets the runway as regards whether or not aviation will recover,” he said.

“If we do not get this right as a country and implement it as soon as is practicable, in a manner that protects public health, then any chance our aviation sector has of a full recovery will be lost.”

He said there were variants of concern but “we have measures in place to catch and control them”.