With Ireland set to change its travel rules again, how do its testing and entry requirements compare to other countries?
Ireland's tortured tourism industry had hoped January might signal the start of a recovery. Instead, it's brought tougher travel restrictions than ever.
Already this month, thanks to a Christmas surge of Covid-19 and its new variants, we've seen travel banned from the UK and South Africa, a blanket requirement for all arrivals to show negative PCR test results, and Garda checkpoints on airport roads.
This week, the screw looks like tightening even further, with plans under discussion including self-paid ‘quarantine hotel’ stays for those failing to present negative test results, and 14 days of home quarantine for all other arrivals.
This sounds like dystopian stuff. But Ireland’s travel clampdown is not unusual, and restrictions are likely to tighten all over the EU (Belgium has already banned all non-essential travel in and out of the country), leaving the traffic light system blinking forlornly.
Quarantine hotels? The UK is considering them. Norway already has them – travellers from “high-transmission” areas who do not have a place of residence must quarantine for 10 days in a designated hotel there.
The bill? 500NOK (€48) a night is a bargain in Scandinavian terms. Oh, and you must also take a mandatory Covid-19 test, or be refused entry.
New Zealand takes things to another level. Only residents and citizens are allowed to enter (with few exceptions, such as for critical workers, or dependents). All must undertake 14 days of mandatory quarantine, booking their place at a facility before travel and showing proof of same before boarding the plane. After two weeks, if you test negative, you can enter the community.
Then there's Israel. Its government has just banned almost all international air travel for a week from tomorrow, in a bid to curb the spread of variants.
Like Ireland, a growing number of countries are requiring all passengers to present negative test results – from tomorrow, for example, the US joins the club with a testing requirement for anyone aged two and up.
Not that it matters for us. Entry is currently being denied to non-US nationals from Ireland, the UK and Schengen Area countries, among others, due to soaring Covid rates and the spread of new variants.
The window period during which a travel test must be taken can also vary widely. Ireland limits this to the 72 hours before arrival. Others draw the line at 48 hours, 24 hours, or require – like Iceland – tests on arrival.
St Lucia, on the other hand, allows seven days.
Nor has Ireland been alone in allowing people from high-risk or ‘red' areas to shorten their quarantines by taking a second test after a period of time - five days, as it is in our case.
Germany, Finland and Iceland have similar rules (you can browse the entry requirements of different EU countries on the reopen.europe.eu/en website).
There’s another question. What about vaccinated travellers?
In recent days, we’ve seen the Seychelles and Iceland exempt passengers that carry vaccination certificates from their quarantine rules. You still need to test negative, but the steps provide tantalising clues as to the future of travel.
Will we carry vaccine passports? What would that mean for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, or who choose not to, or for citizens of developing countries whose vaccination programmes will be much slower?
The Irish Government hasn't taken a stance on this yet, though it is likely to have to. A key piece of the puzzle is whether or not vaccinated people can still transmit the virus.
Confused? Aren't we all.
The chaotic jumble of rules has made it virtually impossible to plan travel, and you could see that as exactly the point – where coronavirus is surging, non-essential trips are being cut-off more comprehensively than ever.
Our travel and tourism industries of course put public health first, and understand that these are emergency actions. But locking down, as we've seen, is the easy part. What they'd also like to see is an exit plan.
Right now, that's non-existent. Beyond vague talk of ‘light at the end of the tunnel', there's little indication as to how travel may recover, and the growing threat that 2021 will leave another €6 billion hole where overseas tourism used to be.
We can tie the knot. But let's plan for loosening it, too.