International travel could return by late July as Government moves to ease restrictions

Taoiseach to propose paring back mandatory quarantine list amid moves to adopt the EU digital green cert
International travel could return by late July as Government moves to ease restrictions

Key ministers in the Irish Government are anxious to re-establish connectivity, given its importance to the life and economy of the country. File picture: iStock

The prospect of vaccinated people being able to fly abroad by late summer will take a giant leap forward tomorrow as Cabinet ministers are to approve a major easing of restrictions on travel.

The Government will tomorrow approve a plan to remove most, if not all, European countries from the mandatory hotel quarantine list as part of a move to adopt the EU digital green cert.

While sources say there is a degree of concern around the Indian variant of Covid-19, Ireland’s vaccination programme is sufficiently advanced to allow the country to take this step.

Ireland keen to be ready

The EU deadline for adoption of the green cert is June 26, and, while individual countries will have latitude as to when they will apply it, the Government appears keen to be ready in time for the first wave. By doing so, international travel within a single EU zone will be possible by late July or early August, senior Government sources told the Irish Examiner.

The proposal, due to be tabled in a memorandum to Cabinet by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, comes following a meeting of ministers and officials from several departments on Friday, with details due to be finalised today ahead of the Cabinet meeting.

Pressure for return of air travel

Pressure has been building from Leo Varadkar and key economic ministers such as Paschal Donohoe and Michael McGrath to allow a return to air travel, given how important it is to Ireland’s connectivity to the rest of the world. 

It is understood that a “significant scaling-back” of the mandatory hotel quarantine system is envisaged, but it will need to be retained for countries where “variants of concern” are present.

Secondly, any easing of restrictions looks set to be based on any country with a vaccination programme that is on par with, or ahead of, Ireland, even on first doses. Some sources suggested that this could mean an earlier than expected return of flights to the US.

Thirdly, there were different soundings from within the Coalition as to whether travel within the Common Travel Area between Ireland and Britain could return in advance of the wider European move, but one source warned: “There is no movement there yet.”

States to verify each other's documents

By adopting the digital cert, the European Commission will have a system allowing members to verify each other’s documents in place next month — but each country has to prepare its own structures to issue the certificates, free, to its residents.

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan and other public health officials are said to be monitoring the spread of the Indian variant, which is seen to be more aggressive and resistant to vaccines than others.

Some experts are warning against relaxing the mandatory quarantine system.

Warning against scaling back quarantine 

In today’s Irish Examiner, Gerry Killeen, research chair in applied pathogen ecology at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, UCC, says Ireland should in reality be scaling up its capacity.

“The ongoing rampant spread of B.1617.2 on our doorstep represents an unprecedented threat, presenting us with some stark choices we’ve been putting off for too long,” Mr Killeen writes.

“The bottom line is that if we’re serious about using MHQ [mandatory hotel quarantine] to protect ourselves against more dangerous Covid variants, we will have to now apply it to our nearest neighbours in the UK and Europe with whom we share a long-standing common travel area.”

Retail returns amid cybercrime battle

This comes as a further 802 cases of Covid-19 were reported over the weekend.

The figures for Friday and Saturday were issued by the Department of Health on Twitter yesterday as it continues to grapple with the fallout from a cyber attack.

Meanwhile, today also marks the return of all non-essential retail in Ireland as part of the Government’s roadmap to recovery following the commencement of click-and-collect services two weeks ago. The next phase occurs on June 2 when hotels, B&Bs, and guesthouses can reopen.

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