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Explainer: This is the current official advice on foreign travel

The government is advising people to avoid all unnecessary overseas travel.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/muratart

AS COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS within Ireland ease, attention is now turning to the question of foreign travel: What risk does it pose? Can people apply for refunds on booked holidays if they choose not to travel this summer? 

With this in mind, in this article we’re taking a look at how things currently stand and what might change in the coming weeks.

What’s the current advice? 

The official government advice is to avoid all unnecessary overseas travel.  

The advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs is as follows: “The Irish Authorities advise against all non-essential travel overseas until further notice. This includes Great Britain but does not apply to Northern Ireland. It also includes all travel by cruise ship.”

People who return to Ireland from abroad have to self-isolate for 14 days, after completing a mandatory form and submitting it to the relevant authority at their port of entry. However, concerns have been raised that some people are not self-isolating upon their return.

Speaking to reporters in Dublin today, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the self-isolation requirement will “hopefully” not be long-term but is currently necessary.

“It is very onerous on people and also very difficult to enforce,” he said, adding: “Hopefully it’s not going to be a long-term requirement, but it is there for a reason.”

He added that Ireland does not have a sufficient number of hotels or security staff to make supervised quarantining mandatory.

‘Green list’ 

Despite the official advice against travelling, a European ‘green list’ of countries is currently being compiled. It’s planned this will contain a list of countries people can travel to without having to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival back in Ireland. 

It’s expected that this list will be made public next week, and reviewed every two weeks as the Covid-19 situation is monitored in each country.

Varadkar today said the list is due to be published next Thursday, 9 July, but that the new government will need time to “study matters”.

A Cabinet sub-committee meeting on the situation will be held in the next few days, where a decision will be taken and more certainty will be provided to the public, he said.

Varadkar acknowledged there is “uncertainty” about foreign travel at present.

I know for a lot of people who want to travel abroad to see friends and family, who maybe they haven’t seen for months, or for people who want to travel abroad for other purposes, what they would like is clarity and certainty from government and I appreciate that hasn’t been forthcoming in the past week or two.

At Monday’s Covid-19 briefing at the Department of Health, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan advised against all non-essential travel over the coming weeks and months.

“It makes much more sense to not go ahead with that booking and to risk travelling abroad, picking up this infection, risk for you, for any family member you are travelling with or indeed any close contacts you have.

“I think that would be not just in your individual interest but in our collective interest,” he said.

‘Very concerned’ 

Holohan said he is “genuinely very concerned” about Irish people taking holidays abroad and “reimporting infection back into this country”.

He said of the 24 new cases announced on Monday, at least six were associated with international travel.

The advice from Holohan and the DFA is clear but there have been complaints that government communication over the ‘green list’, which will create so-called ‘air bridges’ with countries with low coronavirus infection rates, has been confusing. 

The European Union on Tuesday agreed to reopen its borders to 15 countries, excluding the US which has seen another surge in cases. 

The 15 countries deemed safe are as follows: Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.

As Ireland is not in the Schengen Area, and has a Common Travel Area with the UK, it is not part of the agreement.

Countries can opt out of the agreement and Denmark has to date.

Refunds

The Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) has called on the government to clarify the “mixed messaging”.

The ITAA said if the official advice is for people not to travel abroad, the government should cancel all flights and ensure people are refunded.

ITAA CEO Pat Dawson this week said there is “huge confusion” for customers and travel agents alike.

“If the Department of Health, the Chief Medical Officer and the Department of Foreign Affairs wish to uphold these restrictions, they will have to support inbound and outbound tourism and compensate affected consumers – a decision must be made on this,” Dawson said.

No one in the Irish travel industry is advocating unsafe travel, the response of the Irish people to the pandemic has been astounding, they are not going to start going on holidays and taking risks.

The Consumer Association of Ireland has called for the government to create a compensation fund to reimburse holidaymakers who have cancelled flights, or will not travel as planned, on foot of government travel advice.

005 Passenger Locator Form File photo of a passenger at Dublin Airport in May. Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Speaking to TheJournal.ie yesterday, CAI Policy and Council Advisor Dermot Jewell confirmed that holidaymakers are not entitled to refunds if they cancel their booking and could “be left seriously out of pocket”.

“Why? Because they’ve broken their side of the contract,” he said.

“The airline is delivering … but they’re breaking their side of the contract, just by not going, and they’re not entitled to any refund.”

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‘Worrying trends’ 

Speaking at a press briefing yesterday, Liz Canavan, Assistant Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach, also acknowledged there is uncertainty about foreign travel amid “worrying” Covid-19 trends.

“We have seen some new outbreaks in other countries in the last few weeks, how easy it is for this virus to begin to take hold again.

“Countries that have had a low incidence are seeing a resurgence, countries that eased restrictions and thought they went through the worst have had to lock down cities or areas again, that is happening in Europe and worldwide.”

She added that there has been “an increased number of cases associated with [international] travel” in Ireland recently.

“We have also seen an increased number of cases associated with travel … This week alone we have reportedly at least six cases of Covid-19 associated of international travel.”

Canavan said the government understands the issue of foreign travel is “causing great uncertainty”.

“Some people have holidays booked and are wondering what to do. We are acutely aware of this and we would ask you to bear with us.

“This situation is undoubtedly volatile from a disease point of view internationally. The government has committed to preparing a roadmap for safe overseas travel and will finalise its considerations on this very shortly.”

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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