Irish Examiner view: It’s time to ease travel restrictions

Overly cautious approach to Covid-19 cannot be maintained indefinitely
Irish Examiner view: It’s time to ease travel restrictions

Some of the old ideas used to encourage our ancestors during times of great challenge have not aged well. 

That the world’s almost 3,000 billionaires — around 500 achieved that status in the last year — control more than $13 trillion (€10.7trn) gives the lie to that charter for subservience: “The meek shall inherit the earth.” 

As anyone who cares to look will see the meek inherit very little. 

Another version of that take-it-on-the-chin swizz is that those who can endure will prevail over those who inflict horror or hardship. 

Those blandishments celebrate the idea that reward follows effort, that there is an end to every ordeal. 

The Cabinet meets tomorrow and has an opportunity to renew the truth behind those old, often abused ideas. 

Cabinet will consider how and when to reopen international travel and end, or at least modify, the controls imposed over the last 14 months. Those controls, and especially their enforcement, often seemed more draconian on paper than they were in actuality. 

The flexibility around them did not encourage solidarity. Nevertheless, with midsummer’s night a month away, the chance to recharge batteries by basking in costa-and-sangria sunshine for a few days before winter falls has assumed an unprecedented attraction, as has the need for some sort of post-lockdown reward. 

Those rewards are not just psychological.

Tourism earned an estimated €9.3bn in 2019. Almost 10m foreign tourists spent close to €5.2bn here, plus an estimated €1.75bn to air or sea carriers. That revenue flow has stopped and has forced difficult decisions. 

Aer Lingus has shut its crew base at Shannon and temporarily closed its Cork wing, raising fears the airline may abandon those regional conduits. Services built up over decades are slipping away. 

The airline has pandemic losses of €465m but tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting has an opportunity to staunch those losses. 

Unsurprisingly, it has been encouraged to do so. The head of the International Air Transport Association, Willie Walsh, called our mandatory quarantine “repressive”, while Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary dismissed it as “insane”.

The tens of thousands of workers in the hotel or restaurant sectors would agree that even if a decision to reopen tomorrow may not save this season, at least they can concentrate on maximising domestic opportunities. 

That publicans yesterday demanded that Government announces that indoor trading can resume on July 1, in line with the vaccine plan, underlines how desperate many businesses are and that another deferral may be more like a death sentence for some.

The Government faced the pandemic with “an abundance of caution”, but that cannot be sustained indefinitely.

Tremendous progress on vaccinations and the confirmation that Pfizer and AstraZeneca antidotes are effective against the Indian variant, add to the pressure to take another step back towards something like our old normal.

There may never be a good time to take a risk but the scale of that risk must be balanced. 

It will have to be taken some time and progress suggests that tomorrow would be an appropriate day to do so. Those millions who have endured so much would not welcome an unnecessarily meek decision.

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