The Government has decided on a 'green list' of countries deemed safe to visit, advising travellers to take normal precautions.
These include Malta, Finland, Italy, Cyprus, and Greece, which are among a total of 15 countries whose category of risk has been downgraded. The decision was made at Cabinet last night.
However, the general advice still being given to passengers and those leaving the country is that the safest thing is not to travel and to holiday at home this summer.
The change in advice also means that people arriving here or returning from the 15 named countries will not have to quarantine for two weeks.
The decision comes after the first split of the new Government emerged, with Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, both of Fianna Fáil, accused of “making a balls” of the ‘green list’ travel issue by Fine Gael colleagues.
The row exploded ahead of last night’s delayed Cabinet meeting, at which the list was discussed and clear tensions emerged between the parties.
Rowing in behind Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s politically explosive criticism of the Government’s mixed messaging, Fine Gael ministers have hit out at the confusion caused in recent days.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, one minister said: “Dealing with a pandemic is about clear communications and they have made a balls of it. Holding a Cabinet meeting at 8pm at night is bullshit, just stupid.
“What the Tánaiste said makes sense. What is the point of a green list when the public advice is still 'do not travel'? Things have gotten sloppy."
Another minister said Fine Gael had no choice but to have this row in public. “People had faith in our handling of the pandemic by and large. There is a sense that is slipping and there is anger,” said the minister.
And despite denials of division at Cabinet by some, openly different views have been laid bare.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who was taoiseach in the previous administration, suggested the green list should possibly be scrapped.
He said it was “wrong to send out mixed messages about international travel,” adding: “But if the travel advice for countries on the green list isn't different to advice for other countries, then we would be better off not having a green list at all.”
Mr Varadkar had originally favoured an 'air bridge' system for flying, where advice for countries with low levels of the virus would be relaxed or people would be told to just exercise caution.
Mr Martin, in the Dáil, seemed to lay blame for the confusion at his predecessor's door, saying: “This is something that had been articulated some time back in terms of a green list being published. The challenge is living with Covid-19 and getting the balance right.”
Mr Martin ruled out testing at airports, saying health chiefs had advised against this. He also played down mandatory quarantine, noting this had increased the spread of the virus in other countries.
Consumers and airlines in recent days were left perplexed by shifting positions on travel advice Travel agents declared that the list could cause confusion for both inbound and outbound travellers, unless advice relating to countries identified as safest to travel to changed.
The Irish Travel Agents Association said that a decision must be made between cancelling flights and offering compensation, or lifting the non-essential travel ban for green-listed countries.
Of particular concern is the fact that many customers were not entitled to a refund if they choose to cancel their flights.
The idea around the green list is that countries with similar or lower virus rates would be deemed safest to visit.
Anyone travelling to these would not need to self-isolate for two weeks when returning home.
Equally, travellers arriving from them don't have to quarantine.
The latest European data shows in the two weeks up to July 21, Ireland confirmed 4.79 cases for every 100,000.
Countries with lower levels included Malta (1.01), Finland (1.18), Norway (1.84), Cyprus (3.88), Slovakia (3.94), Greece (4.2) and Italy (4.65).
However, other popular holiday spots and countries have much higher rates for the same period.
These include France (12.56), Spain (27.8), Portugal (45.17), the UK (14.41) and Turkey (16.74) while the US, recorded 270 cases, some 55 times higher than the level in Ireland.
These latter countries have not been put on the new list.