Covid is threatening to throw the travel plans of holidaymakers into disarray this summer as cases surge across Europe leaving airlines with no option but to cancel flights.
Aer Lingus has warned of further disruption today in Dublin Airport after it was forced to cancel a further 12 flights to European destinations yesterday due to a spike in Covid-19 cases among staff members. The virus and strikes were also to blame for the airline cancelling 13 flights last weekend.
The HSE’s chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry confirmed the country is in the midst of a new wave of the virus.
Aer Lingus said the routes hit yesterday were between Dublin and Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Frankfurt, Geneva, Lyon and Munich.
To add to the airline's woes, its 7.30am, 3.55pm and 8.15pm flights from Dublin to Heathrow today have been cancelled.
The 7am flight to Hamburg and the flight to Berlin at 5.55pm will also remain grounded.
Dublin-bound flights departing Heathrow at 9.50am and 6.10pm will not take off due to a mandate from London Heathrow Airport Authority. The 9.45am flight from Hamburg and the 9.55pm flight from Berlin have also been cancelled.
Dublin Airport currently notes that Friday's Aer Lingus flight to Bordeaux at 1.30pm is cancelled.
The pandemic has already forced the Government to put the army on standby in case the virus causes disruption to security services at Dublin Airport, which is already struggling to process the over 50,000 passengers who are passing through it every day.
Fears have been raised in recent weeks that the kind of disruption to flights in other major European airports could be mirrored in Dublin. Daa has admitted it considered following the lead of Heathrow which made airlines cut their schedules to manage passenger numbers. To date, Daa has managed to avoid having to do so.
All this comes as the country's airports face into their busiest weeks after primary schools finished up for the summer and families prepare to head off on their summer break.
Aer Lingus said its teams are working to secure alternative travel options for all the customers affected by the cancelled flights. It said that should the issue of staff illness arise again in the coming days, it will seek to re-accommodate passengers on the next available services as quickly as possible.
“Aer Lingus anticipated the return of demand for travel once Covid restrictions were removed and built appropriate buffers into our plans in order to deal with a reasonable level of additional disruption," it said in a statement.
“System pressures and ongoing issues at some airports and among third-party suppliers have created considerable operational challenges which have been compounded by a significant spike in Covid cases in recent days.” Aer Lingus’s pandemic woes come as the number of people hospitalised with the virus has been rising on an almost daily basis. Yesterday there were 776 in the country’s hospitals, 25 more than the previous day. Of those, 31 were in intensive care, an increase of three.
The number in hospital has increased by more than two-thirds in only the last fortnight.
The HSE’s chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said the country is in the midst of a new wave of the virus but that this time it is being driven by sub-variants of Omicron.
"These new variants mean that the people who were previously infected with Delta, such as in summer, autumn of last year, or even that we call the BA1 variant earlier this year, don't enjoy that protection from reinfection from these variants,” he said.
"And what we're seeing now, it highlights the fact that even though we're in a much better position as a country in relation to Covid compared to previous summers, it highlights how much uncertainty still remains.” Dr Henry said that what we’re seeing now shows that Covid is a “virus for all seasons”, rather than seasonal, and that hospitals are being put under increasing pressure.
One such hospital is University Hospital Kerry in Tralee, which has seen visitor restrictions being put in place.
"Unfortunately, the county of Kerry is now experiencing a very high incidence of Covid-19,” the hospital said.
“The consequence of this high incidence rate is that UHK has a significantly increased number of Covid-19 inpatients at the hospital, along with a high level of emergency presentations."