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For many months, Ireland has been an outlier on international travel compared to other EU countries. Shutterstock/Lukas Gojda

Explainer: International travel, domestic trips and Dubliners - here's what you need to know

The government have moved to clarify their travel policy.

THE GOVERNMENT YESTERDAY published the much-awaited plan for living with Covid-19 over the coming six months.

The plan provides a framework of five levels of restrictions that can be in place on a county-by-county basis.

It deals with a wide range of issues including social gatherings, working at home, pubs reopening, sporting events and travel.

So under the new plan, what is the new advice?

Firstly, let’s look at international travel.

When the pandemic hit in March, international travel in and out of Ireland largely ground to a halt.

As government’s scrambled to figure out how to fight the virus, emergency measures and restrictions were imposed on air travel. However, there was never a ban on travel.

With many countries under lockdown, the numbers travelling fell drastically.

However, as the months progressed, EU countries moved to come up with a plan to allow for European citizens to travel – for holidays, business, or for any reason they saw fit. 

On 13 May, the European Commission presented guidelines and recommendations to help Member States gradually lift travel restrictions, with all the necessary safety and precautionary means in place.

The measures were intended to enable citizens to travel again after months of confinement. At the time, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) did not recommend the Irish government sign up to the measures.

One month later, the commission launched ‘Re-open EU’, a web platform to allow the “safe relaunch of free movement and tourism across Europe … and to help people confidently plan their travels and holidays during the summer”. 

ECDC advice, which was relied upon as evidence found that it “does not support recommending border closures, which will cause significant secondary effects and societal and economic disruption in the EU”.

“Border closures result in substantial challenges to logistics, trade and the movement of people, particularly during a crisis period.”

However, Ireland remained an outlier in Europe when it came to international travel, with the Tánaiste acknowledging that Ireland was operating one of the most cautious travel policies in the EU.

The Green List

Many ministers misrepresented the Irish government’s travel advice on the airwaves over the last few months, stating that the government’s policy advised against non-essential travel. 

While the Department of Foreign Affairs, which sets the government’s travel policy, advised against most non-essential travel overseas, travel to a very limited set of locations – named on the Green list – was always exempted from this advice.

Individuals arriving into Ireland from Green List countries do not have to restrict their movements upon entry into the country.

In July, when the list was released, Varadkar confirmed that the Department of Foreign Affairs website advised that no non-essential travel is the general advice, “but there are exemptions and the exemptions are the green list”.

He added:

“The virus does not know whether you’re on essential or non-essential business or what passport you have.”

The Big Travel Plan

In a departure from the earlier approach, the Taoiseach this week said Ireland will finally be aligning with the European Commission’s approach on travel.

The European Commission plan, due to be adopted next month, is a traffic light system, and will only come into effect in October.

These proposals will establish a common criteria and thresholds for EU member states when deciding whether to introduce travel restrictions. 

It would also provide mapping of common criteria using an agreed colour code, and a common framework for measures applied to travellers from high-risk areas.

The European Commission suggests that EU States should not restrict the free movement of people travelling from another member state where the total number of newly notified Covid-19 cases is equal or less to 50 per 100,000 during a 14-day period, or the percentage of positive tests from all Covid-19 tests in a given area is less than 3%. 

The European Commission suggests that anyone coming from certain designated areas that are more adversely affected by Covid-19 should either quarantine or undergo a Covid-19 test upon arrival to a country. 

As of yet, there is still no clarity on what the rules will be around travel to the US or other parts of the world. Again, travel to those regions is not banned, just not advised. 

And in the meantime…

In the meantime, the Irish government has sought to clarify its travel advice.

Varadkar told RTÉ’s Prime Time this week that travel policy is now clearer. He confirmed Ireland will be using the same metrics other EU countries use to update the Green List, which has not had any countries added since mid-August. 

“We are saying you can travel to those countries [on the Green List] without any restrictions,” he said.

So what about holidays then, that’s what the big question is?

When asked directly about this on Prime Time, Varadkar said:

“They can if they choose to.”

He said people are”free to go” to Green List countries “without restrictions”.

“That is your choice,” he said, reiterating that the countries on the list, as has always been the case, have a lower rate of disease incidence per 100,000 than Ireland. 

Instead of being updated fortnightly, as had been the case the last couple of months, the Green List will now be updated every Thursday. 

Additional countries will be added to the list on Monday, while some countries that have a higher incidence rate will be removed.

What about travel within Ireland?

All of the country is currently on Level 2, and if you look at the plan, it outlines that there are no domestic travel restrictions.

So, no threat to the staycations, no worry about driving over the county border.

However, there is a caveat – one the government has been criticised for in the past 24 hours.

Despite Dublin also being on Level 2, the capital is subject to additional restrictions

Dubliners are being encouraged to limit travel outside the region, if possible.

When questioned about this today in the Dáil, the Taoiseach reiterated that the advice for people in Dublin is that they should not travel outside the county, while also reaffirming that it is “not a legal restriction”. 

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe had earlier urged people in Dublin to “reconsider” leaving the capital for a wedding, asking them to think of the consequences of Covid-19 spreading at such an event. 

Ultimately, the advice to people in Dublin is to adopt a common-sense approach.

The government would prefer you don’t travel outside the capital, but if you have some personal reason that you deem to be pressing enough that you have to attend, no one is going to stop you. Use your own judgement.

There is a threat that Dublin could be moved to Level 3 – what would that mean?

NPHET is meeting tomorrow to consider the situation in Dublin, and there is an expectation that it might advise Dublin be moved to the next level.

It is a huge decision to make as it would impact on many businesses. Museums, librarians, and cultural areas would close, religious services would move online, and restaurants and cafes would have restrictions imposed on their indoor seating. 

And in terms of domestic travel, advice for Level 3 would be to stay in your county (or other defined geographical area) apart from work, education and other essential purposes.

This evening, a further 254 cases and three new deaths were reported.

A total of 136 cases were recorded in Dublin. The county has seen a considerable increase in the number of people infected with Covid-19 in recent weeks.

Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of NPHET’s Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group said Dublin has seen a sharp increase in cases in recent weeks.

Professor Nolan said the capital was reporting 1 – 2 new cases per day – per 100,00 population – and is now reporting 8 – 10 cases per 100,000. 

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