Ryanair CEO Eddie Wilson has hit out at Nphet for 'shaming' two pensioners who spoke to the Liveline radio show about their holiday in Gran Canaria.
The pair were criticised by callers after claiming they were enjoying their retirement on the sun-soaked island rather than under lockdown in Ireland.
Frank and Una called into RTÉ's Joe Duffy show on Thursday to say they had travelled to the Spanish destination due to its low incidence of Covid-19.
The following morning, deputy chief medical officer Ronan Glynn told reporters at a national press conference: "I can't begin to imagine how frustrated and frankly angry some people who are complying must have been listening to that." But speaking to the Sunday Independent this weekend, Eddie Wilson said the comments by Ronan Glynn were "extraordinary".
"I heard what Nphet had to say," he said. "Ronan Glynn excoriating them for being abroad. I thought Nphet were about advising the Government rather than commenting on consumer programmes, but that's how far we have drifted in the conversation.
"My understanding is that they are in the Canaries and they said they are complying with regulations and got lifted out of it. But that's where we are at now."
Mr Wilson also went on to describe it as "extraordinary" that travel "has even taken central stage" in the national conversation. He said, "It's a distraction from the more fundamental issues that Ireland faces right now, which is the question of vaccinations. The only way to get out of this is through vaccinations. When the four most vulnerable groups are vaccinated, then hospitalisations and the death rate will plummet and people will be able to get on with the rest of their lives.
"Yet it's morphed into this almost cult-like thing that we all have to hide in caves and that travel is the bogeyman. All we hear now is a daily dose of 'if you go on holidays, you are going to import it'. We have the worst rate in Europe. Ireland is probably the worst place to go to rather than people going the other direction."
Meanwhile, speaking about the Government's plans to introduce hotel quarantining, he said: "It's only a PR stunt and a side show. If you don't want people to come from South Africa or Brazil then just ban them altogether, but they already aren't coming in because there are no flights from South Africa or Brazil to this country.
"Whether you like it or not, Northern Ireland is the UK and Ireland has a porous border so you can't have hotel quarantines. They are never going to work unless you can control the border into Northern Ireland and we can't. It's never going to be practical, politically or otherwise."
On calls for Ireland to follow New Zealand's example of a 'Zero Covid' approach, he said: "Look at New Zealand, their GDP is 30pc or 40pc less than Ireland's. It is an island nation that has a largely self-sufficient economy, as is Australia. Australia isn't attached to Malaysia. It is an island and has a long history of policing its borders in terms of immigration so when people compare us to them, it's not comparing like with like.
"It's not possible for Ireland even in the medium term to cut ourselves off from the rest of the world as a small open economy."
Mr Wilson said he is optimistic that demand for travel will "snap back" once Ireland's vaccination roll-out immunises the majority of the population.
"Mark my words, the debate here between six and 12 months' time will be 'why do we have not have any connectivity in this country?' and 'why has it gone elsewhere?'"
Dublin Airport has lost connections to 115 cities across the globe due to the pandemic. The airport currently has scheduled flights to just 85 cities, compared with 200 before the pandemic hit.