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Varadkar repeats travel advice but says country cannot close itself off

Leo Varadkar said the current travel advice has not changed and that non-essential travel should be avoided for now.

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Travel has been restricted during the pandemic (Brian Lawless/PA)

Travel has been restricted during the pandemic (Brian Lawless/PA)

Travel has been restricted during the pandemic (Brian Lawless/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar has said he would like to see a return to international travel as soon as it is safe to do so, adding that Ireland cannot close itself off indefinitely.

Current advice says to avoid non-essential travel and Mr Varadkar stressed that those guidelines were still in place.

“The current travel advice, however, has not changed and that is to avoid non-essential travel,” he said.

A ‘green list’ of countries is still set to be published by Government next week in coordination with the European Union, but Mr Varadkar cautioned that it will be subject to change and updated every two weeks.

For people who travel to the countries that are on the green list, the 14-day quarantine will not apply.

“Speaking as Minister for Employment and Trade, I would certainly like to see a return to international travel as soon as that is safe,” he told reporters in Dublin on Thursday. “I am also conscious of the fact that thousands of people work in the domestic tourism sector and in our airports and airlines.

“I’m also conscious that people have worked very hard over the past few months and are looking forward to a break but it has to be done safely.

“Ireland has been very successful in getting the number of new coronavirus cases down to less than 20 – not that many countries around the world have done that.

“We have to be smart about the fact that if we open our country to areas where the virus is still circulating and virulent, then that does run the risk of re-importation.

“At the same time we all know we can’t cut off the country forever. We can’t stop people from visiting their friends and families. We can’t stop business executives coming into Ireland to create jobs so we need to get that balance right.”

Mr Varakdar said a Cabinet sub-committee will take place in the next few days on the issue of travel.

A recommendation on the issue will be brought to the Cabinet this coming Monday to give clarity to people who want to book holidays.

Earlier this week, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said people should cancel their foreign holidays as it risks importing cases of coronavirus to Ireland.

Mr Varadkar said people should listen to Government advice and reiterated that people should avoid non-essential travel.

“We still plan on publishing a green list of countries where it is safe to travel to. We have a new Government and the new Taoiseach and Minister for Health are going to want to study matters,” he said.

Mr Varadkar talked the down likelihood of mandatory quarantine for travellers being introduced.

“It is very onerous on people and very difficult to enforce,” he said. “We have seen countries like New Zealand where the health minister just resigned. It is very difficult to enforce so hopefully it is not going to be a long-term requirement.”

Meanwhile, the Dail Covid-19 committee heard the 14-day self-isolation requirement “effectively closes” Ireland to all overseas visitors.

Chief executive of Failte Ireland Paul Kelly called on the Government to find a way to reopen for overseas tourism as soon as it is safe to do so.

He said: “Covid has been catastrophic for tourism. It dwarfs any previous crisis. Economically, tourism was hit hardest and will take the longest to recover. The sector has had four months of revenue and while revenue has stopped, the costs did not.”

Mr Kelly called for the VAT rate to be changed to 5% to help the tourism sector.

He said at 13.5% Ireland had one of the highest VAT rates in the EU where the average was 10-11%.

PA