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Irish cutting short trips abroad over coronavirus uncertainty

Washington DC Dulles airport was noticeably quiet on Saturday as President Trump’s travel ban on 26 European countries came into effect.

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Samantha Harvey, baby Finnan MacDiarmada and Oisin MacDiarmada waiting for a United Airlines flight out of Washington DC (Niall Carson/PA)

Samantha Harvey, baby Finnan MacDiarmada and Oisin MacDiarmada waiting for a United Airlines flight out of Washington DC (Niall Carson/PA)

Samantha Harvey, baby Finnan MacDiarmada and Oisin MacDiarmada waiting for a United Airlines flight out of Washington DC (Niall Carson/PA)

Irish people abroad are cutting short their trips to return home amid uncertainty over how the coronavirus pandemic will affect travel plans.

Flights from Washington DC Dulles airport to Dublin across the weekend were significantly depleted and made up almost exclusively of passengers trying to get home.

US President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the Covid-19 virus on Friday before announcing the inclusion of Ireland and the UK on his list of countries covered by the ban on arrivals into the US by non-residents.

Coronavirus
Travellers in line waiting to get into to US visa and customs pre-clearance at Dublin airport (Niall Carson/PA)

With the initial travel ban of 26 European countries in the Schengen free movement zone coming into effect on Saturday, Washington DC fell noticeably quieter than usual, with most of its museums shut down.

At Dulles Airport, Irish trad musician Oisin MacDiarmada, from Co Sligo, was on the last United Airlines flight from the city on Saturday night with his wife Samantha and their baby son Finnan.

With just a scattering of passengers on the plane, the lead flight attendant joked: “I could almost come down and do it (a greeting) personally” as he welcomed those on board.

Mr MacDiarmada had been performing across the US with his wife, who is a dancer from California, when their remaining shows were called off.

“We were meant to be staying until after St Patrick’s Day; we were due to be flying back on Wednesday,” he told the PA news agency.

“We were playing different gigs, Samantha was down in Nashville with the Nashville Symphony just hours before all the gigs got shut down.

We were lucky in that we lost maybe four shows, it's small enough given the experiences of lots of other peopleOisin MacDiarmada

“We were aware of it in the background, we spent most of it touring the West Coast so it was gradually becoming the story in California and Washington state.

“We did a concert in Seattle, stayed two nights in town, it was like a ghost town. It was so quiet, which was kind of the first realisation.

“We thought we’d be OK on the East Coast but then things quickly changed.

“We play traditional music, Sam’s a dancer and plays the piano, I’m a fiddler.

“The group I was playing with, we did our last concert in Pennsylvania on Thursday night and then we found out everything else ahead was being cancelled so we had a scramble to get everyone flying out. We were the last to leave.”

Mr MacDiarmada said they had lost some money from the cancelled gigs but said others were in a “far worse position”.

“I have heard of worse, some people were in the early stages of tours that were due to go on a month or even longer than that. We were lucky in that we lost maybe four shows, it’s small enough given the experiences of lots of other people,” he said.

Coronavirus
Louis Power from Carrick on Suir waiting for a United Airlines flight out of Washington DC (Niall Carson/PA)

Meanwhile Louis Power, from Carrick-on-Suir, in Co Waterford, was travelling home through Washington DC after attending the Con Expo industrial trade show in Las Vegas.

He said there had been a strong Irish contingent at the event but like many others he had taken the decision to end the trip early.

“Everything went a bit crazy, you’d go into a shop for some paracetamol and everything was just gone,” he said.

“We just changed our flights this morning (Saturday). When we heard what was happening we thought we’d better get out of here now while we can.

“We’d a lot of friends over there meant to be going home Tuesday or Wednesday next week but are taking flights today.”

PA