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Sunday 1 October 2023 Dublin: 16°C Government ministers are keen to get people home for Christmas this year.
# christmas travel
Passengers from ‘orange’ regions will not have to restrict movements if they have a negative test 3 days before flying
The travel traffic light system will come into effect on 8 November.

TRANSPORT MINISTER EAMON Ryan has told an Oireachtas committee today that changes to the requirements for travellers arriving into Ireland from orange regions “are being worked on and will hopefully come into effect soon”.

As reported by last week, from midnight on 8 November – the date the new traffic light travel scheme comes into effect in Ireland – the government is planning that the requirement for those arriving from orange locations to restrict their movements is due to be waived, if they have a negative test result up to three days before arrival.

The minister told the committee members that the Government has agreed to develop a framework around the EU “traffic light” system, which was adopted at EU level on 13 October.

“Work on that is a priority, and it involves developing a plan to establish approved Covid-19 tests for international arrivals, taking into consideration testing options, standards, and operational implementation,” he said.

In his opening statement, the minister states that as a start, changes for green regions have already been made, which means that people arriving into Ireland from green regions of the EU – as certified by ECDC – do not have to restrict their movement for 14 days.

“Further changes to the requirements for arrivals from orange regions are being worked on and will hopefully come into effective soon,” he said.

He said there are currently are only a small number of orange countries on the ECDC traffic light system map. He said people will get a “test of their own volition from that location”.

Regions currently listed as orange include Norway, Finland, parts of Denmark, Latvia, Greece, and the Canary Islands. 

Ryan said other countries such as Germany have operated such a system.

In terms of a testing regime in Ireland, he said the government wants to make sure that such a system does not impede on HSE capacity.

He said he is confident such a testing regime could be  “done quite quickly”. He said the government has been engaging with the Dublin Airpot Authority, stating that it has engaged with about 20 providers that can supply Covid-19 tests.

Ryan said he expects the private sector to provide the tests. Testing does not necessarily have to take place at their airports, stating that it could take place elsewhere.

While the current requirement for a person to restrict their movements for 14 days following arrival from a ‘red’ region remains until further notice, the Government is planning that as soon as it is practicable, this requirement can be waived following a negative result from an approved Covid-19 test taken five days after arrival.

Testing requirements for arrivals from red countries will be in place “in a matter of weeks”.

In terms of travel around Christmas, the minister said:

“I think it is far too early to be making statements in that regard.”

He said the direction Ireland is going is hopeful in terms of our own level of incidences, but he said we will have wait and see what happens in other regions.

“This is to make travel more safe,” he said. Speaking about mandatory quarantine, Ryan said we don’t have such a system and it would be very difficult to roll out such a system. 

“Our system is compliance based system,” he said.

The minister’s comments come a day after the Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is engaging in a process with government on how to enable the traffic light travel system by 8 November.

“International travel is not safe and movement of people around areas with high incidence of this disease, particularly in Europe and North America, is not safe,” Holohan told the committee yesterday. 

Despite repeated questioning by members of the committee yesterday, Holohan could not give specific details about what NPHET will advise in terms of people returning home this Christmas. 

The CMO said it’s too early to say what the situation will be regarding travelling home to Ireland at Christmas as it depends on “a whole lot of factors that are simply unknowable at this time”.

He said he was being asked to look forward a period of six weeks, adding “it is simply not possible” and stating that it is a “hypothetical situation”.

Holohan said he understands the sensitivity issues surrounding travel around Christmas time, with people wishing to come back to see each other who have perhaps not seen each other in many months. He said he also understood the implications it has for airlines. 

NPHET’s role is to simply advise on what the risks are “and how best ameliorate and address those risks”. 

Ryan has already stated that the aim is to have airport testing up and running in time for Christmas, but added “it is not just for Christmas, we have to think into next year, we are an island”.

He said it is hoped that travel may be possible at Christmas time and that a testing regime will help to facilitate that.

Holohan told the committee that if Ireland introduces testing at airports, NPHET is in favour of passengers taking a Covid-19 test five days after arrival. 

If testing of incoming passengers is introduced here, the “most efficient” method to manage viral importation is to have a 5-7 day period of restricted movement with a symptom check and Covid-19 test on Day 5 after arrival. 

When asked about whether government will have to defer from NPHET advice on international travel and testing, a senior government source said Ireland has already signed up to the EU system, which involves a testing regime, so that’s it.

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