On traffic lights, green means go, but when the Irish Government finally gets around to publishing its Green List of countries (“this week”) will Government advice effectively result in ‘Green’ meaning ‘Don’t Go’? ITTN’s Neil Steedman expects more confusion and uncertainty rather than the clarity much needed by travel agents, tour operators, and the would-be travelling public.
On 7 February 2020 it was reported that a decision on ‘air bridges’ would be made by a Cabinet sub-committee on 8 February, signed off by Cabinet on 10 February for publication on 14 February for activation at “a later date”. Fast forward and the publication of a ‘Green List’ of countries was delayed until 9 July, then 20 July, then 21 July, and is now, with An Taoiseach Micheal Martin able to return from Brussels and the EU budget negotiations, promised for “this week”.
I am normally an optimist but, given the various statements made recently by ‘health experts’ (well, some of them) and Government Ministers, it seems likely that the Green List will add to, rather than remove, the conflicting messages and lack of clarity as to what Government policy is regarding international travel, outbound and inbound. The travelling public, travel agents, tour operators, travel insurance companies, and tourism interests may be scratching their heads in disbelief following the announcement – but I hope I am wrong.
As ITAA Chief Executive Pat Dawson posted on LinkedIn a few days ago: “Green list will be a non-event, restrictions on the outbound will not be lifted, and the countries that will be listed will be no help to inbound. Taskforce advice not listened to either.”
One key question will be whether the Government will remove its overall advice against ‘non-essential’ travel as far as all the countries included on the Green List are concerned. If it doesn’t, the travel insurance companies will likely not cover any travel to those countries.
Another is: Who decides what ‘essential’ travel is – the Government, the Immigration Officer or Covid-19 team at Dublin Airport or Rosslare Port, or the traveller? Health Minister Stephen Donnelly TD has said that ‘essential reasons’ include essential work, caring for a family member abroad, or Irish citizens returning home. Note the word “include”, implying that there are others, and the words “essential work” – who decides what that is?
In addition, although the World Travel & Tourism Council has said that: “The uneven patchwork of Covid-19 national border restrictions and rules across a supposedly single Schengen zone is an obvious deterrent to cross-border movement”, some such movements are possible – so how will Immigration/Covid-19 teams at Irish ports know if someone arriving from a Green List country has not visited a neighbouring ‘Red List’ country?
Then there’s the issues of lack of testing of arriving passengers, the lack of meaningful quarantine for those testing positive, the ability of Irish residents to travel via Belfast to non-Green List countries and not face any form filling, testing or self-isolation on their return, etc, etc.
But soon we should know if this Green Coalition’s Green List means Go or Don’t Go!