Ministers and senior officials are trying to chart a path through the coming weeks of the holiday season – one that deals with public health concerns about importing Covid-19 and yet keeps Ireland open for business.
Concerns about the dangers of overseas visitors bringing further infections to Ireland have grown as the lockdown has eased and tourism – domestic and foreign – has restarted.
The Government is due to announce a “green list” of non-quarantine countries this week, but there have been political and public health calls to tighten the restrictions, not ease them.
Meanwhile, the acting chief medical officer, Ronan Glynn, speaking at a National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) briefing, warned of the danger of new clusters emerging in workplaces and public places.
The Government is increasingly cautious about any list of “safe” countries, or measures, such as reopening the pubs as normal, which would give the ailing tourism economy a boost.
However, senior sources also rule out draconian travel and quarantine restrictions. There is little chance that airlines will be told not to fly, or that arrivals will be brought to the Citywest Hotel and kept there for 14 days.
The rationale is both practical and symbolic. Firstly, there would be a huge enforcement issue, especially when the case of cross-Border traffic and visitors from the rest of the UK are considered.
Meanwhile, voices caution that such a move would send out a disastrous message for a country that relies on overseas trade. “We are one of the world’s most open economies,” says one senior source. “We can’t just shut that down.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs has warned about the impacts on foreign direct investment if the Government were to drastically reduce international travel or enforce a mandatory supervised quarantine.
Yet the Government is also conscious that the public is increasingly nervous. Opinion research for the Department of Health shows that worries about the virus have been rising steadily for the past month. It is where it was at the end of April. Strikingly, more people now believe that the worst of the virus is “ahead of us” (38 per cent) rather than “behind us” (33 per cent).
This is the first time since the end of April that there are more pessimists than optimists on this question. A huge majority of people (78 per cent) believe that a second wave is likely or very likely.
Should the Government choose to reimpose some of the lockdown restrictions it seems there will be public support – almost half (48 per cent) say they would favour more restrictions, with just a third (33 per cent) not in favour.
Nearly two-thirds of people (65 per cent) say the response so far has been appropriate, while 31 per cent say it has been insufficient. Only 4 per cent say the restrictions have been too extreme.
What does all that mean?
The Government is faced with pressures from each side – pressure from the tourism industry and associated lobbies to reopen quicker, and pressure from public health authorities to slow down.
The public is on the side of the public health experts, such as Glynn. Most likely the Government will try carefully to pick out a compromise path in the weeks ahead.