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Taoiseach says prospect of air travel is months, rather than weeks, away

Leo Varadkar said the Government will strengthen requirements around people travelling into Ireland.

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Handout photo issued by Photocall Ireland of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD speaking at a visit to a contact tracing centre in Dublin.

Handout photo issued by Photocall Ireland of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD speaking at a visit to a contact tracing centre in Dublin.

Handout photo issued by Photocall Ireland of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD speaking at a visit to a contact tracing centre in Dublin.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the prospect of non-essential air travel from Ireland is months, rather than weeks, away.

Everyone who arrives in the State to stay, whether Irish or from abroad, is being asked to self-isolate for 14 days to ensure that anyone with Covid-19 does not infect others.

It comes amid calls for tougher laws to require people arriving into the country to tell authorities where they will be self-isolating.

Mr Varadkar said: “The very strong advice from Government is that anyone entering our country, whether they are an Irish citizen or not, needs to quarantine and self-isolate for 14 days with the exception of certain key workers.

“We are going to strengthen that over the next few weeks.”

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Leo Varadkar visits a contact tracing centre in Dublin (Photocall Ireland/PA)

Leo Varadkar visits a contact tracing centre in Dublin (Photocall Ireland/PA)

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Leo Varadkar visits a contact tracing centre in Dublin (Photocall Ireland/PA)

He was speaking at a visit to a contact-tracing centre in Dublin on Wednesday.

“Of course we all look forward to air travel in the future,” he added.

“We’re an island nation and a globalised economy. We need to return to business and leisure travel at some point, but that really is premature at this stage.

“The European Union and the aviation authorities are thinking about that and how we can return to safe air travel, but that is months rather than weeks away.”

The coronavirus death toll in Ireland rose to 1,497 on Wednesday after a further 10 deaths were announced.

There were 159 new confirmed cases of the virus, bringing the total in Ireland since the outbreak began to 23,401.

On Tuesday, Ryanair announced it was restoring 40% of its flight schedule from the start of July.

However, Ireland’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has urged Irish people not to start planning foreign summer holidays, predicting that the restrictions on non-essential air travel will still be in place until at least July.

The first phase of Ireland’s five step lockdown exit plan is due to commence on Monday.

Mr Varadkar said he is more confident that the country can begin to reopen from next week.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will make a recommendation to Government later this week.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

Outdoor construction work, DIY shops and small outside gatherings will be allowed from Monday if the Government gives the go-ahead on the basis of the advice from the NPHET.

“It is fair to say that everything is going in the right direction, but a decision has yet to be made about whether we will get to ease restrictions on Monday,” said Mr Varadkar.

“As we ease restrictions, personal responsibility and personal discipline is going to be all the more important because we will be meeting each other more and more people will be going to work.”

He said the Government will issue guidance in the next few days about making and wearing face coverings to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Transport Shane Ross said his department will provide funding to public transport companies to ensure their services can continue.

Mr Ross, who lost his seat in the general election, returned to the Dail for the first time after he was cocooning at home. He continues as a minister until a new government is formed.

He told the Dail: “The public transport system is a critical part of the plan for reopening of the economy.

“It is inconceivable that public transport should not function properly in the present crisis.

“Therefore, I can confirm to the house that the Government will provide the necessary additional funding to continue those services, despite the drop in fare income.

“My department is working closely with the NTA (National Transport Authority) and DPER (Department of Public Expenditure and Reform of Ireland) to assess and quantify this additional funding requirement.”

He also said that it is “very likely” commuters will be asked to wear face masks when using public transport.

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Shane Ross returned to the Dail on Wednesday (PA)

Shane Ross returned to the Dail on Wednesday (PA)

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Shane Ross returned to the Dail on Wednesday (PA)

Dr Holohan has said there is no plan to make the wearing of face masks compulsory.

Senior Government official Liz Canavan said work is ongoing at Government level on the use of face coverings in public.

Speaking at the Covid-19 briefing on Wednesday morning, she said: “We are aware of questions around the potential use of face masks or coverings as we move to lift restrictions.

“Work is ongoing around guidance and practical communication about the face coverings and how they can be made at home. A key message will be how to safely use face coverings because the evidence is clear. If face masks are not used properly then they can have the effect of increasing the risk of transmission.

“We will have more information for the public about face coverings in the coming days.”

Ahead of some of the restrictions possibly being lifted next week, Ms Canavan warned the public to remain vigilant.

Ms Canavan said the Government does not want to have to reintroduce measures in future, as some other countries have had to do due to a spike in coronavirus infections.

She said: “Any lifting of restrictions carries a risk of going backwards and losing the hard-won progress of recent months. This week, we have seen some countries reinstate some restrictions.

“We do not want to have to do that. We are approaching our reopening in a gradual way.

“Therefore, it is important that we are disciplined in sticking to the guidelines that apply.

“It is also important to remember that we have not started to ease restrictions yet.

“Every day counts in terms of assessing where we are and how we can move on.”

PA