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Ireland's 'air bridges': Real risks virus could be re-imported from Britain, warns Taoiseach

15 June is too soon to open Ireland’s border, says Leo Varadkar.

Image: Shutterstock/Altrendo Images

THERE IS a real risk of Covid-19 being re-imported into Ireland by people travelling into the country from Britain, according to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

The EU Commission has called for the reopening of the bloc’s internal borders by 15 June, but Varadkar has said the date is too soon for Ireland.

Speaking after Cabinet today about the possibility of Ireland striking air bridge deals with some EU countries with a similar rate of the virus, the Taoiseach said:

“We do want to be in a position to create air bridges to allow travel between Ireland and other countries where the virus is also successfully suppressed and we need coordination on an EU level. We intend to be part of that, but we think that’s the 15th of June is far too soon for us to do that here in Ireland.”

An “air bridge” is an agreement between two countries which have coronavirus under control or at the same level as one another. Such an agreement opens up travel between the two countries.

“So we’re going to see what’s possible,” said Varadkar, stating that the government would work with EU colleagues, the UK and the administration in Northern Ireland, and review the situation in about two weeks time.

“For now, the advice remains the same: don’t travel off the island for tourism, don’t come to the island for tourism, anyone who’s arriving here, even for an essential reasons through our ports or airports will have to fill out the passenger location forum and will be strongly advised to self quarantine,” he said.

TheJournal.ie reported last weekend 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 confirmed today.

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

Much criticism has been leveled at Britain and how it handled the coronavirus outbreak. 

There are concerns about how the government would handle the matter, whereby Ireland could have air bridge deals with countries outside the Common Travel Area, and not with Britain.

When asked about the concerns relating to Britain, and drafting a list of countries that might exclude Britain, Varadkar said: 

“Yeah, it is a concern. 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.

Booking a holiday

A number of airlines are promoting flight deals for July, but the Taoiseach warned that it is too soon for people to be booking a holiday abroad this summer.

Citizens have constitutional rights and human rights as EU citizens, which means they are free to travel, work and study anywhere in the European Union, he said.

He added it is also “complicated” because being part of the Common Travel Area means that UK people have the right to travel freely between the UK and Ireland.

“But this is an unusual situation – it is a public health emergency,” he said.

It really is too soon for people to book flights. If they do that, there’s no guarantee they will be able to travel and a very strong possibility that they will have to self quarantine or self isolate for two weeks on return.

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“Several European countries have reopened their borders and resumed flights, we’re not going to do that yet. The decision here in Ireland is that travel restrictions remain in place,” he said.

Proper EU coordination on the issue is needed, said Varadkar, who added that in March every EU country “kind of did their own thing” when it came to closing borders and restricting flights.

“We want whatever happens to be much better coordination. So we’d like a common set of rules. If, for example, the number of use cases in a particular country is below a certain level for a certain number of days, well, that’s where you have an air bridge, but we don’t want everyone having different rules. And that just hasn’t happened yet.

“So we think opening up on 15 June for air travel which some countries are doing, is far too soon as we need to get this right first and get the precautions right… we’ll review the situation again two weeks,” he said.

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