Summer holidays in foreign hotspots not ‘realistic’, warns Tony Holohan

Chief medical officer delivers blow to airline industry with warning

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins

Eilish O'Regan and Gabija Gataveckaite

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has effectively ruled out summer getaways this year, dashing hopes people have of travelling to foreign hotspots.

Dr Holohan’s comments came just hours after Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary launched an extraordinary attack on the CMO’s leadership and criticised his colleagues on the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

Mr O’Leary accused Nphet of disseminating misinformation and “scare stories” as well as causing “mass hysteria” about international travel in an ­interview yesterday morning.

Speaking at a briefing last night however, Dr Holohan said it is not “realistic” to expect people can fly to Europe or other destinations for summer holidays and the only beach they are likely to travel to is their local one.

“I don’t think we are heading for a summer where millions of people from this part of the world can be heading to beaches that are other than in their own localities,” he said.

Dr Holohan’s comments came following forecasts Ryanair will lose nearly €1bn this year as Mr O’Leary said public health officials need to “get the finger out”.

He insisted there “aren’t lots of young people getting sick and going to hospital” and Ireland needs to catch up with UK on the vaccine roll-out.

Mr O’Leary also predicted there will be “millions of people travelling to the beaches of Europe in July, August and September”.

However, in a major blow to the airline industry, Dr Holohan said last night he appreciated everyone wanted a traditional summer break. But he said “to fly off to Europe and all parts of the world for summer holidays – I just don’t think that is realistic”.

Asked for his response to Mr O’Leary’s claim on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that Nphet is inspiring “mass hysteria”, he said he “had the nothing but admiration for him” in what he had done for his industry and the country, but he stands over Nphet’s advice.

It is based on “a reasonable and fair interpretation of the data we are seeing. We would like to be reporting better data and far fewer deaths and more progress”.

He said “we have a job to do” and have to give people news they would prefer not to hear.

Dr Holohan was speaking amid renewed concern that the fall in daily cases of the virus is showing signs of plateauing against a background of a rise in workplace outbreaks and general signs that people are letting anti-Covid-19 measures slip.

He said given the prevalence of the more infectious UK strain – now accounting for 70pc of cases – “it is extremely important that workplaces and retail settings need to review their protocols and ensure their staff and customers are protected as much as possible”.

Another 10 deaths were reported yesterday as well as 1,062 newly diagnosed cases of the virus.

Professor Philip Nolan of Nphet warned of worrying signs of a slowing down in the reduction and pointed out that in the last seven to eight days, case numbers have been relatively constant at around 1,300 a day.

The incidence of infection in the over-65s and over-85s is beginning to fall but remains high.

Some of the slow down is due to close contacts being tested again, he said, but it was also due to people being less cautious. He said they need to be as strict with themselves as they were three weeks ago.

People are “getting a little less careful” at a time when the more infectious UK variant is circulating, he added.

There were 29 outbreaks last week in construction, meat and food processing and in manufacturing.

The information they are getting from public health teams across the country is just the “tip of the iceberg” given they are overstretched, but it appears a lot of transmission is in the workplace.

In some cases it is workplaces that are essential, but the message remains that if people can work from home, they should.