After weeks of delay and mixed messages, Ireland's 'green list' has landed. But the Government still says 'the safest thing to do is not to travel'
Holidaymakers, airlines, tourism businesses and health experts have all been crying out for clarity around travel. They finally got Ireland's 'green list' last night... along with further confusion.
What countries are on the green list?
The countries on the list where it is now deemed "safer" to travel include Malta, Finland, Norway, Italy, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Slovakia, Greece, Greenland, Gibraltar, Monaco and San Marino.
If you have to go abroad for essential reasons, this is a list of countries from which travellers will not have to restrict their movements for 14 days on return.
Can we holiday in green list countries?
Green suggests 'go', and there are direct flights from Ireland to holiday hotspots like Malta, Italy and Greece, but the Government still says “the safest thing to do is not to travel”.
"The Pandemic is not over and the public health advice remains the same," it said in a statement last night. Nphet, though it doesn't set policy, also says we should holiday at home.
However, confusion remains - as the Department of Foreign Affairs' travel advice for countries on the green list has now been downgraded from "avoid non-essential travel" to take “normal precautions”.
What does that mean?
Ireland has four official travel advice categories - "avoid non-essential travel" is Level 3, which since March has applied across the board (and still applies to all other countries). Switching 'green list' countries to Level 1 ('normal precautions') is a surprise, and could be seen by some as a reason to holiday there, despite the Government's wishes.
And, in another confusing note, a general Covid-19 advisory to "avoid non-essential travel until further notice" is still listed on 'green list' country advice pages.
All passengers coming into Ireland will still have to fill out locator forms.
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Will my travel insurance work in a green list country?
Yes, if the advice is to take 'normal precautions', you will most likely be covered by your policy - however, it remains to be seen if the general Covid-19 advisory (above) presents an issue.
The issue of travel insurance had been a concern before publication of the list, as most policies won't cover a country to which "non-essential travel" is advised against.
What are the notable omissions from the list?
There are many - but in terms of popular holiday destinations, Spain, Portugal and France have not made the list. Nor have the UK or US, as was widely expected - despite being two of Ireland's largest tourism markets.
Some have suggested regions like the Canary Islands, which are popular with holidaymakers and have lower caseloads than Ireland, could be well-suited to a 'green list' or 'air bridges'. But the Government has stuck with a broad approach, excluding the Canary and Balearic Islands under the broader omission of Spain from the list.
How was the list compiled?
The list is based on countries that have lower caseloads of Covid-19 than Ireland.
Ireland's 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 people stands at 4.8, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Italy's, the country with the highest incidence on the 'green list', is 4.6. Greece is 4.2 and Malta 1.0, by comparison.
Germany (6.5) and the Netherlands (6.6) narrowly missed the cut, but it seems clear now that France (12.6), Spain (27.1) and Portugal (45.2) were not in the picture - despite outbreaks being in specific regions.
What else has the Government said?
It added that it will "continue with plans to strengthen the existing measures for monitoring passengers who arrive into Ireland, including the introduction of an Electronic Passenger Locator Form, enhanced follow-up procedures, a call centre operated by the Dublin Airport Authority, and a proposed testing regime for symptomatic passengers at airports and ports".
Will the green list change?
It is expected to be reviewed fortnightly, based on changing caseloads.
In theory, that could present another problem for travellers - what happens if a country is removed from the list, and the travel advisory changes while you're on holiday there?
Why publish it then?
By now, ministers must wish a 'green list' had never been mentioned. In just a few weeks, targets have moved, caseloads have risen, the pandemic has worsened and a new Government is at the wheel.
During this time, the list appeared to have evolved from one of safe "air bridges" or "travel corridors", to one of countries considered safe for "essential" trips only, and from which returning travellers won't need to restrict their movements for 14 days.
It is unclear whether the new list will clear up the confusion.
Haven't people been travelling overseas anyway?
Yes, airlines have slowly been resuming routes from Ireland, and Ryanair in particular are pushing summer services and sales, but the figures are all very relative.
About 12,000 passengers are passing through Dublin Airport each day on 200 flights - but that compares to 112,000 on up to 800 daily flights last July. Others are trying to cancel or reschedule, with up to €1m being lost every day on "no-shows", the Irish Travel Agents' Association (ITAA) says. The mess has made the business of travel almost impossible.
If I cancel my flight, will I get a refund?
This is a key issue for many customers trying to decide whether to travel. But if an airline operates a service, it has fulfilled its part of the contract, and does not have to offer you a refund.
Both Aer Lingus and Ryanair are offering free flight changes for a limited time (through December and September respectively), but customers who decline to travel may not be able to get their money back.
What if family or friends visit us from green list countries?
"Family and friends arriving from a green list country should be treated as visitors," the Government advises. "This means you should follow social distancing and other public health guidelines. You should not interact with them in the same way as the people in your household that you live with every day."
What about transiting passengers?
Passengers coming to Ireland from 'green list' countries, but who make connecting flights in countries not on the list, do not have to restrict their movements, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said.
Speaking on RTE's Morning Ireland, the Minister said:
“If you fly through an airport into another destination, it’s the destination that you’re heading to, or the destination that you originate from, that’s the country that determines whether you are effectively on the so-called green list."
What will the new list mean for tourists coming to Ireland?
It depends. People who live in 'green list' countries may be more likely to visit if they don't have to restrict their movements for 14 days.
Travellers are favourably disposed towards Ireland, according to Tourism Ireland research, but quarantine is a significant block - three quarters of consumers in the US, UK, Germany and France say that they would not travel under such circumstances.
However, even if they did, the end of summer is now in sight, the numbers of people who visit Ireland from the 15 'green list' countries is small, and visitors may be further put off if Ireland's list keeps changing or they feel unwelcome.
Either way, any gain would not make up for the devastation of losing our most important tourism markets - the UK and US.
How did it come to this?
The basic debate is about how Ireland should protect its progress against coronavirus, while restarting life, school and business.
Rising cases, a lack of quarantine enforcement and airport testing and the open Border with Northern Ireland (there are some 60 countries on the UK's travel list) have unnerved many. Some believe Ireland should severely curtail travel, or even seal itself off like New Zealand.
Others say connectivity is crucial, travel-related cases are relatively low, and that we should work more closely with the North and improve measures to manage outbreaks.
What has the Government said about Northern Ireland?
"There is no change to the current policy in respect of travel from Northern Ireland," it says.
What have other countries been doing?
Many EU countries have been opening for travel and business - to mostly EU member states and with 'travel corridors' to limited countries beyond (e.g. Canada, New Zealand and Japan). Italy was first to open its borders on June 3. Though a common approach would make sense from some perspectives, countries have largely been creating their own "safe travel" lists - the UK, for instance, names over 60 territories and countries from which returning travellers do not need to self-isolate.
NB: This is a developing story, and is being updated.