Tánaiste Leo Varadkar picking up some lunch near Leinster House. RolingNews.ie photo
By Anthony Neeson
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar says there has been too much attention on the threat that international travel poses in spreading the Coronavirus in Ireland.
Mr. Varadkar insisted that two to three per cent of new Covid-19 cases are linked to travel. Health care workers are the highest group at risk from the virus, while family and social gatherings are also a factor in spreading Covid-19, he said.
The Republic of Ireland last week published a green list of 15 countries where people can travel to without having to self-isolate for 14 days on their return. The list includes sun destinations such as Italy, Cyprus and Greece, but does not include France, Portugal or Spain.
Speaking on RTÉ, Mr. Varadkar said that the Republic of Ireland was not New Zealand and the country could not simply cut itself off from international travel.
“We need to be realistic about this, Ireland is not New Zealand. We are not three and a half hours flight from the next nearest country. We are a part of the European Union; we are in a common travel area with Britain; we have a land border with Northern Ireland.
“Northern Ireland has approved a green list that allows 59 countries to fly directly into Northern Ireland without any mandatory controls at all, so comparisons with countries like New Zealand don’t stack up when we have an open land border with Northern Ireland and Stormont has been very clear, they don’t want an all-island approach to this.
“We will have a North-South Ministerial Council on Friday here in Dublin and I’m sure it’s going to be an issue but any conversations that I have with the First Minister and anything she’s said since they have been very clear that when it comes to travel they want to stick with the Common Travel Area with Britain and won’t be restricting travel between Britain and Northern Ireland, so anything we do we have to bear that in mind.
“We have an open land border with Northern Ireland which has a much more liberal approach – light years more liberal approach to international travel than we do. We have to bear in mind that we are European citizens and European citizens have the right to travel, to live, to work, to study anywhere in the European Union and can only be restricted on very solid grounds and not arbitrary grounds.”
The discussion on international travel comes as Northern Ireland followed Britain on Saturday night imposing a 14 day quarantine on anyone traveling from Spain.
Health Minister Robin Swann said the step was necessary to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.
“The decision to introduce quarantining for people arriving from Spain was taken to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading in NI,” he said.
“I fully understand that the announcement on Saturday night will have caused concern, particularly to those currently holidaying in Spain.
“The international quarantining regulations and the countries they cover are kept under continual review and are liable to change.
“There is no ideal time to make such a decision. A phased introduction would not have made sense. Public health considerations must take priority.
“The decision was taken after consideration of the latest data. Covid-19 prevalence in Spain has increased in recent weeks – a trend which accelerated rapidly in the latter half of the past week.
“I appreciate that people returning from Spain and its islands will now be faced with an unexpected period of quarantining.”