Keelings controversy: Leo Varadkar orders urgent review after fruit picker charter flight lands in Ireland

The chief medical officer said such travel was not consistent with public health advice.
Keelings controversy: Leo Varadkar orders urgent review after fruit picker charter flight lands in Ireland

The Taoiseach has ordered an urgent review after a charter flight brought almost 200 seasonal workers into Ireland during the coronavirus lockdown.

The flight from Sofia arrived at Dublin Airport earlier this week, transporting 189 Bulgarian workers to be deployed on fruit farms owned by Dublin company Keelings.

Leo Varadkar has ordered a review into the rules and procedures around travel into Ireland during the ongoing health emergency.

Health Minister Simon Harris and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan also expressed concern at the incident.

We need to keep travel to a minimum and ensure that passengers are interviewed on arrival and that quarantine is observed

Mr Varadkar said: “I share the discomfort expressed by the chief medical officer about the report of a large number of people coming to Ireland earlier this week to work in the horticulture sector.

“We need to keep our airports and ports open so essential goods and essential workers can get in and out of the country and Irish citizens and residents can return home.

“However, we need to keep travel to a minimum and ensure that passengers are interviewed on arrival and that quarantine is observed.

“I have therefore asked for an urgent review of the current rules and procedures to be carried out over the weekend.

“That review will be considered by the Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 on Monday and any changes that are necessary in light of that review will be made.”

Earlier, Mr Harris voiced concern in a Twitter video, saying: “I feel deeply uneasy about this, I don’t think the idea of chartering planes at this time to bring people into our country is a good idea.

“At a time we’re asking people to socially distance, the idea that a chartered plane, on which you can’t socially distance, would be coming into our country is something which makes me feel uneasy.”

Chief medical officer Dr Holohan said companies flying migrant workers into the country was not currently consistent with public health advice.

Keelings has faced widespread criticism due to the strict public health measures in place to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Dr Holohan was asked about the incident at Friday’s coronavirus briefing by the National Public Health Emergency Team.

He said he was not comfortable with companies chartering flights to bring large numbers of workers into the country.

He said he only found out about the Keelings flight after it had arrived.

“It wouldn’t really be consistent with the public health advice that we’ve been giving,” he said.

“And I think some of that advice does have implications in relation to travel and for people who are travelling and we’ve been very clear and consistent in what that advice is.”

He said travel should be limited to Irish citizens returning home from abroad and to those engaged in keeping vital supply lines operating.

“I don’t want to be critical of any individual or any individual circumstance, I don’t know the details of the circumstances, I’m aware of in general terms what’s been reported in the media,” he added.

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