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Ireland could have 'air bridge' with France, Portugal, Germany and maybe Greece

Sources state there is a ‘sensitivity issue’ with how we deal with Britain.

Image: Shutterstock/emperorcosar

IRELAND COULD HAVE an ‘air bridge’ with France, Portugal, Germany, and perhaps Greece, according to senior sources.

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.

The EU has encouraged member states to seek out ‘air bridge’ agreements in order to allow for some travel for citizens during the summer months and beyond.

While none-essential travel is still not recommended by government, Health Minister Simon Harris has said it is not illegal to travel abroad.

Air bridges are being discussed across Europe, with the Taoiseach speaking this week about the possibility of Ireland striking such deals.

According to senior government sources, a list of possible countries has been drawn up.

Top of the list are countries such as Germany and France, but it is believed that Portugal, Greece, and Eastern European countries such as Croatia are also being considered.

Sources state that Irish tourists could be allowed fly to these countries, due to them  having similar coronavirus numbers as in Ireland.

However, officials have stated that it is difficult to judge what countries Ireland can be matched with due to the disparity in how European countries count and record Covid-19 cases.

This week, Varadkar quoted Greece and Portugal as two countries that could welcome Irish tourists – but places like Spain and Italy with much worse Covid-19 records are unlikely to be included.

“The position we would like to get to, later in the year, hopefully later in the summer, is being able to travel point to point between Ireland and other countries where the virus is successfully suppressed like Portugal as you mentioned and maybe Greece.

“That’s now being coordinated on a European wide level which I think is the best way forward.”

Health Minister Simon Harris said air bridges or “travel bubbles” could be an option in the future.

“We may decide there is no greater chance of you getting the virus in one country than it is going to Kerry… we are not saying that now and we are not at that point now but it is a point we could end up at over the course of the next while,” he said.

There is another problem facing the government if and when it announces an air bridge with other countries: The problem is Britain.

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. 

Due to the high number of cases across the Irish sea, “the last thing we need is British tourists flocking here or for our own citizens to travel over there”, as one minister stated.

However, 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.

Speaking about air travel in an interview with Pat Kenny on Virgin Media One on Friday, Varadkar said “that’s a bit away yet”.

However, when announcing the government’s revised roadmap for Phase 2 of the easing of the lockdown, he gave some hope to holidaymakers that the “summer is not yet lost”.

The Taoiseach said people being asked to self-quarantine when they arrive in Ireland remains in place.

However, while there had been some speculation about the government putting such guidance on a legal footing, making it mandatory, that seems to be off the cards now.

There had been concerns among some Cabinet ministers that making it mandatory for Irish citizens or visitors into the country to self isolate would be a “step too far”. 

The Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan had also recommended designated facilities might be used for the 14-day period, something that if given the green light would have possibly caused a major split around the Cabinet table.

In what could be seen as a u-turn on the issue, Harris has said that “at the moment, I am satisfied with where we are” with the guidance on the 14-day quarantine period.

The government has put the passenger locator form on a statutory footing, meaning it is now an offence for someone to refuse to give their name and address of where they are staying. Gardaí can do “spot-checks” as a result, said the minister,stating he is satisfied that is enough for now.

“I have said I would finalise my position on it this month and if there is a need to do more,” said Harris.

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“As of now there is is very little travel… I am keeping an open mind as to whether further measures are needed,” the minister said.

When asked about some airlines sending marketing emails to customers stating that flights to places like Portugal would soon be available to book, Harris said it was inappropriate.

“I take my travel advice from public health experts. Now is not the appropriate time to take non-essential trips abroad.

“We all love our summer holidays but now is not the right time to go,” he said.

He said he would like to see airlines who send marketing emails to include advice to customers that there is a 14-day quarantine period in Ireland once you arrive home, but he didn’t think airlines would ever include that on their advertising.

Harris said he could not predict when the foreign travel restrictions would be lifted but said the government would not keep them in place for any longer than is necessary.

Staycations in Ireland could be allowed in Phase 3, said Harris, stating:

“This is the summer where the staycation is much more likely than trips abroad.”

The minister did clarify that it is not against the law currently to travel abroad and said people travelling to the airport would not be stopped by gardaí and ordered not to travel.

“There is no law against travelling aboard… it is public health advice,” he said.

However, under Phase 2, government advice is for members of the public to travel within their own county, or around their homes to a distance of up to 20km within a neighbouring county.

When asked about people flying off to stay in their holiday homes abroad, people who might be happy to adhere to the the 14-day self isolation rule upon their arrival back in Ireland, Harris said: “We are asking people not to do that.”

“We have gotten through this with people working together,” he said.

So far, he said, people had used their heads and listened to the public health advice from doctors.

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