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Confused by the current travel advice? You're not alone. Here's everything you need to know right now

‘Baby please come home,’ Bono once sang… But will Tony Holohan endorse that message this year?

New travel rules kicking in at the end of the month will open up travel for many.
New travel rules kicking in at the end of the month will open up travel for many.
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

CHRISTMAS TRAVEL: Should Irish people abroad book flights or ferries home? Is it okay to plan a trip abroad from Ireland? 

These are just some of the questions being asked in households here and in far-flung parts of the world this week. 

The issue of travel has dominated the headlines after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil this week that he wouldn’t advise that people overseas to book flights home just yet.

His words to the Dáil on Thursday provoked a mixed response. Joe Duffy’s Liveline switchboard lit up with calls, with one listener telling the host they were “disgusted” with Varadkar’s comments.

Since the start of the pandemic, the government has come in for criticism over its perceived mixed-messaging on international travel.

It was hoped by those in the corridors of power that this would be put to bed this month as Ireland aligned with the rest of Europe in adopting the new ‘traffic light’ travel system.

But heading into December, the public has a number of layers of travel advice to get its head around. Far from ideal. 

So, what’s the overall picture? 

Well first of all, there is what you legally can and can’t do. 

Legally, there is no law stopping someone from either flying into Ireland or someone flying out of Ireland. Flights are going every day, travel never stopped in Ireland, and it was never banned.

If you decide to fly in or out of Ireland, you won’t be stopped at the airport or sent back home.

Mandatory quarantine is not in force in Ireland. Nor is it a legal requirement for a person to restrict their movements for 14 days after their arrival from another country, but as one of the key measures for stopping the spread of Covid-19 it is very strongly advised

What is legally mandated is the requirement to fill in a Personal Locator Form at the airport or port when you arrive in Ireland. Details of your address and other contact details should be logged on that form, in order to aid contact-tracing in the event that it’s required. 

Moving on from what’s legally allowed or not, we come to the government’s official public health advice under Level 5 restrictions.

With the current restrictions in effect until the end of the month the advice remains that there should be no non-essential international travel.

In addition, all residents of Ireland are being asked to restrict movements to within 5km of their home unless it is strictly essential. Any arriving passengers in Ireland are asked to abide by these public health measures.

Official government policy on international travel is provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Anyone looking to travel into Ireland or abroad, would generally be guided by this advice, which is available on the DFA website.

The department states that if you are considering travelling, it continues to advise against non-essential travel overseas - other than to countries that are part of the EU ‘traffic lights’ approach.

The advice for people travelling to these areas is to exercise a high degree of caution. 

However, many of the countries that have signed up to this system currently have their own quarantine or other requirements for arriving passengers – some of which are much harsher than ours. 

For instance, Irish people arriving in France can only enter “as long as they can present proof that they are travelling for a professional, medical, or urgent family purpose, or are returning to their primary residence in France”.

More on the traffic light system later. 

What’s the plan for Christmas? 

In short, officially, there isn’t one yet. 

What Leo Varadkar told the Dáil on Thursday was that that Irish people living abroad shouldn’t book flights home for Christmas just yet.

The reasoning behind this is somewhat obvious. While we have our second wave largely under control, it is still raging in other countries, meaning that a large influx of people travelling to Ireland and dispersing around the country brings with it a massive risk of transmission.

Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan went a step further than Varadkar, saying that flying home for Christmas was not essential.

“We think people should avoid non-essential travel and continue to do so for the foreseeable future,” Dr Holohan said at NPHET’s Thursday night press briefing. 

“That includes the Christmas period, and we would feel that the kind of travel that would normally happen at Christmas time, people coming back to spend time with their loved ones, [...] we have to regard as non-essential for this Christmas.”

As of yet, we don’t know what public health advice will be in place once Level 5 expires at the end of this month. Although, obviously, there will have to be some level of restrictions. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin acknowledged this yesterday when he told RTÉ’s News at One that the government would give people notice “before the end of November” of what the plans for the Christmas period will be “so that people can make preparations”.

He agreed with Varadkar that “at this moment people should wait” before booking flights home to Ireland for Christmas, but added that clarity on that issue and other arrangements for Christmas would be given before Level 5 ends.

The Taoiseach said the government would listen to NPHET advice, but that what happens in terms of travel around Christmas will be a government decision 

It’s envisaged that enhanced testing regimes will form part of any international travel advice. 

Tell me more about the testing so

From midnight on 29 November, travellers arriving into Ireland from so-called ‘red’ regions in the new traffic light system will be advised that they no longer need to restrict their movements once they pass a Covid-19 PCR test (usually a nasal swab) five days following their arrival here.

As of last Sunday night, travellers arriving from orange regions do not have to restrict their movements if they carry the results of a negative Covid-19 test taken at least three days before their arrival.

Those who do not have a negative test upon arrival in Ireland can have a test taken five days after their arrival. 

Passengers will be asked to restrict their movements until they get the test.

Currently, a person is advised to restrict their movements for 14 days following arrival from a ‘red’ region.

A Covid-19 test centre is due to be up and running at Dublin Airport next week, while new testing facilities became fully operational in Cork and Shannon Airports this week. 

PCR tests from private operators cost between €130 and €199 in most cases in Ireland – away from airports, other private companies are already offering them.

Some airports in other countries offer free PCR testing. As demand increases, it is envisaged that the cost here will come down. If other rapid tests are approved as alternatives to PCR, they will be a lot cheaper.

Children under 6 are to be exempt from testing requirements.

And what’s the story with the traffic light system again?  

As stated above, Ireland is now a part of this. 

Under the new EU traffic light plan, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control publishes a weekly map of the EU using a three-stage colour system to indicate the level of risk in each area.

Levels are determined by a variety of epidemiological factors including the 14-day incidence per 100,000 population and the level of positive tests.

Ireland signed up to the plan in October, and it became fully operational this month.

Currently, as the second wave rages on the continent, pretty much everywhere is ‘red’. There’s a smattering of orange areas and absolutely no green. 

Hold on. Whatever happened the Green List?

See why this is confusing? 

Don’t be minding the Green List. 

It’s no longer a thing.

Forget it ever existed. 

What about countries like the US, what rules apply to travelling from there? 

The US and other areas are classified as ‘grey’ in the new traffic light system.

Grey areas are classified the same as ‘red’ countries or regions, and therefore, if you are arriving from a red region or grey regions, like the United States, from 29 November you will be advised that you can move freely once you pass a PCR test five days after arrival.

Currently people should restrict their movements for 14 days following arrival.

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So are we allowed to fly?

Once again, yes. Airports are open, and flights are taking off. There is nothing stopping a passenger from flying.

Can people book Christmas flights home to Ireland?

Airlines and routes are operational and open to taking bookings. 

Can I book a holiday outside Ireland?

The new EU travel plan it does not specify reasons for travel.

The Department of Foreign Affairs says should you decide that you need to travel, you should inform yourself about any requirements in your destination.

Information about entry restrictions currently applied by other countries is available on the DFA’s the country-specific travel advice pages. 

Additional restrictions may be imposed in your destination, including during the duration of your visit. 

Again, the public health advice in place at the moment advises against non-essential travel – domestically and internationally. 

What groups of people do not have to adhere to movement restrictions?

Under the traffic light system, a certain number of travellers are exempt from the requirement to undergo quarantine measures or movement restrictions.

These include  passengers travelling for imperative family reasons and those travelling for business reasons. You can see the full list here.

- With reporting by Daragh Brophy and Nicky Ryan 

 

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