The Irish Times view on travel in the pandemic: a plan for the long haul

The only workable approach will be a combination of travel advisories, better tracking of new arrivals, stronger quarantine rules and an emphasis on personal responsibility

A number of airports around the world now offer testing for new arrivals. In other places, including Hong Kong, all new arrivals must take the test before being admitted. Photograph: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

A number of airports around the world now offer testing for new arrivals. In other places, including Hong Kong, all new arrivals must take the test before being admitted. Photograph: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

 

Having made so many sacrifices to help bring coronavirus under control, people are understandably concerned that recent gains could be reversed by incoming travellers from countries with far worse infection rates than our own. The idea that tourists can continue to fly to Ireland from somewhere like Texas, which recorded more than 10,000 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday alone, naturally seems wrong-headed and dangerous. That has resulted in a clamour for a ban on travel from places where the virus remains rampant.

But if, as seems probable, we are going to be living with Covid-19 for a long time, perhaps even years, we are going to have to constantly weigh risk against the need to restore a degree of normality to our social and commercial lives. Closing the State to travellers sounds like a seductive idea, but it would be unsustainable beyond a very short period and would cause hardship for those for whom travel is essential. In the long-term, the only workable approach will be a combination of strong travel advisories for inbound and outbound travellers, better tracking of new arrivals, stronger quarantine measures and a heavy emphasis on personal responsibility.

Mandatory quarantine for incoming travellers, at least those from badly-affected countries, seems like a sensible idea. But if the Government maintains its position that that would be disproportionate, then it must ensure it has better data on where incoming travellers are staying, along with the capacity to check on them. At the same time, the Government must make clear that people should not go on foreign holidays and should leave the country only for essential reasons. The special pleading from the airline industry should not be a factor in the equation. In time, however, a “green list” of countries considered safe, on the basis that their epidemics are under control, can be drafted and continually revised as circumstances change.

A number of airports around the world now offer testing for new arrivals. In other places, including Hong Kong, all new arrivals must take the test before being admitted. Quick-turnaround testing will be a vital tool here, particularly for those coming to Ireland from high-risk countries.

The key to keeping Covid-19 under control is not any single measure but a series of individual steps to be taken by the authorities and every individual in the State. The toolbox includes social distancing, mask-wearing, avoiding crowded places, regular hand-washing and good coughing and sneezing etiquette. None of this can be repeated too often. If we continue to follow those basic steps, and the State can guarantee us that its test-and-trace system is ready to identify and hunt down any new outbreaks, then the widely-feared second wave does not have to be an inevitability.

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