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Explainer: What's the current advice about taking holidays abroad and how would 'air bridges' work?

Ireland is looking at creating travel corridors with other countries in Europe with similarly low levels of Covid-19, but there’s no certainty as of yet.

File photo. Dublin Airport terminal 2 in April.
File photo. Dublin Airport terminal 2 in April.
Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

IT’S UNDERSTOOD THAT the Irish government is looking into the possibility of having “air bridges” with other countries in the near future.

It’ll mean that people resident in Ireland can travel freely to other countries in Europe who have similarly managed to suppress Covid-19 in communities. 

TheJournal.ie previously reported previously that air bridge deals could be struck with France, Portugal, Germany, and perhaps Greece. Government officials have already begun talks with other countries, the Taoiseach has confirmed. 

Other countries, such as the UK, are also exploring the idea of creating links with nations to allow citizens to pass freely without any Covid-related restrictions placed upon them.

A Cabinet sub-committee is set to discuss the matter further with the possibility of easing travel restrictions to some countries in Europe from next month.

So how will an air bridge work? And could it be possible to go abroad for a holiday later this summer?

Air bridge

People in Ireland are being urged to avoid non-essential travel to other countries at present, according to advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs. It means that people are being told not to go abroad for holidays, for example, at this time. 

Currently, people who arrive in Ireland from abroad – including people resident here – are asked to self-isolate for 14 days. Everyone who arrives here from another country must fill out a Covid-19 passenger locator form, and provide details on where they’ll be going to self-isolate. 

They are advised to avoid public transport where possible, and stay indoors and completely avoid contact with others for two weeks.

Such a system means that any tourists hoping to visit Ireland can’t do so for now – unless they follow the advice and self-isolate for 14 days and their stay here is longer than that. 

These measures are set to remain here until 9 July at the earliest, but the government may extend this requirement beyond that date. 

While there have been far, far fewer flights in and out of our airports during the Covid-19 restrictions, the lifting of these lockdown measures at home and abroad has seen airlines like Ryanair plan to increase their schedules again from July. 

As Ireland and some countries in Europe have largely eliminated widespread of transmission of Covid-19 in their community, the idea of opening up air bridges has been explored.

If Ireland was to have such a bridge with, for example, Spain it would mean that tourists could travel between the two countries without needing to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. 

Creating such a bridge would be dependent on both countries having low levels of virus transmission within the community. 

So which countries could we have an air bridge with?

Earlier this month, senior sources told TheJournal.ie that Ireland could have an air bridge with France, Portugal, Germany, and perhaps Greece.

A list of possible countries had been drawn up at government level, with other countries in eastern Europe such as Croatia also being considered. 

The EU has encouraged member states to seek out such arrangements in order to allow for some travel for citizens during the summer months and beyond, so it could be the case that air bridges are developed with a number of other countries in the future.

With new cases in the likes of Spain and Italy still high, they may not be among the first countries Ireland agrees an air bridge with. 

One country that could prove a major sticking point diplomatically is Britain. At a time when we could open up to other EU countries, not opening up to Britain – which we share a Common Travel Area with – could prove difficult.  

It should be noted that there no restrictions on travel to and from Northern Ireland at this time. 

Senior sources state there is a “sensitivity issue” in how to handle any air bridge list that might exclude Britain.

The Taoiseach has already said there is a real risk of Covid-19 being re-imported into Ireland by people travelling into the country from Britain. 

“Yeah, it is a concern,” Varadkar said. “You know, to be frank with people, there are almost 50,000 deaths already confirmed in the United Kingdom, probably higher if they count them the way that we do – they only count lab confirmed deaths.

“Indications we have is that the R number is still at one or above one in southern British regions. So there is a real risk at the moment of the virus being re-imported into Ireland by people travelling here from Britain and that’s why the restrictions have to stay in place for now,” he said.

And we’re not the only ones looking at developing these air bridges. The UK is in talks with Portugal while Spain has also begun to welcome people from Britain without the need for a quarantine. 

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So will you be able to go abroad this summer?

It’s definitely still too early to be booking those summer holidays – in case you have to self-isolate for 14 days when you get back. Airlines, however, will begin travelling again to a host of areas next month. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today, Minister for Transport Shane Ross said there is a “conversation” ongoing about air bridges at the moment.

While it’s being looked at, no countries have been nominated yet according to Ross.

Varadkar stressed to the Dáil last week that things can change very quickly in how countries are affected, so it would all have to be monitored very carefully. 

“We do not have any air bridges yet, so we are advising people not to come here and not to fly out of the country,” he said.

“To give an idea of the countries where there is a similar number of low cases to here, there were 16 in Ireland yesterday, 15 in Finland and ten in Greece.

In countries such as those, the number of new cases is very low and therefore the risk of journeys between those countries would be very low. It can change quickly. We thought Portugal was one of them and there were 400 cases in Portugal yesterday. It is still a changing picture.

A report delivered to the government this week called for the lifting of quarantine and travel restrictions by 1 July, but it’s understood that these won’t be lifted on a blanket basis by this date. 

The Taoiseach has said that testing could be established at airports and ports to help facilitate travel into the country but there are “limitations”. 

“The cost of the test is not low,” he said. “There is the inevitability of false negatives since people in the early stages of the disease may not test positive but may spread it within days. A 14 day self-isolation period is still the safe route.”

Air bridges with countries who have low numbers of cases, however, do remain possible in the immediate future. Of course, once the airline is flying somewhere you could go as soon as possible. But you may have to adhere to local restrictions, and then self-isolate for 14 days when you get back. 

An air bridge would eliminate those restrictions and allow you to return without the need to self isolate. 

While we don’t yet know for sure if foreign holidays will be able to continue as “normal” later this summer, it does still seem likely at least to some countries as long as the number of cases stays low here and in other countries in Europe. 

With reporting from Christina Finn

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Sean Murray

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