Government denies differences with health chiefs over travel advice

Government denies differences with health chiefs over travel advice
A man wearing a protective face mask in the departures area of terminal one at Dublin airport. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien has denied there are differences between health chiefs and the new government over air travel advice and fears about Covid-19 spreading.

He was commenting as the new coalition continues to assess 'air bridges' between countries with similar control levels of the virus.

On Monday, chief medical officer Tony Holohan warned people about travelling abroad and suggested they should cancel any bookings.

The issue was a “concern”, Mr O'Brien told Newstalk, but the government respects Mr Holohan and would “take his advice on board".

The new coalition is assessing a 'green list' of countries, where passengers and travellers can visit and return without having to quarantine.

However, levels of the virus are fluctuating across EU countries, including in states such as Portugal, Mr O'Brien said.

Nonetheless, he also noted the huge number of job losses in the airline industry and its value to the economy. He said Dublin airport employs 20,000 people and 150,000 indirectly.

He said the government's job is to “protect those jobs” and ensure the airline sector recovers.

However, he denied there is a disagreement with the CMO and others over the position.

“I genuinely don't think so...we take his advice very seriously,” he said.

While the last government said a green list of air bridge countries would be ready by July 9, the new coalition is only beginning to assess restrictions and any consequences of reopening air routes.

Newly appointed Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the government will be led by scientific advice when it came to easing restrictions.

Mr Holohan has talked about a “worrying” increase in Covid-19 cases, including those that came from overseas as infections soar in the likes of the US and UK. Mr Holohan asked people to cancel foreign holidays, saying: "For people who have made bookings, it makes much more sense not to go ahead with [them] than travelling abroad and risk picking up this infection.” 

The Cabinet is expected to discuss the issue next Tuesday after further meetings where NPHET and the chief medical officer will assess what prospects there are for air bridge countries. The government is also awaiting decisions at an EU level on the new proposals for member states. 

But it is expected that a fresh review of new infection spikes being carried out by European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control could also delay this process.

Travel agents have called for clarity on the situation, declaring that the confusion and mixed messages are unfair on businesses.

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