The Irish government has agreed its so-called Green List of countries from which travellers– including returning Irish residents– will not have to quarantine for a fortnight.
The 15 countries on the Green List are: Malta, Finland, Norway, Italy, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Slovakia, Greece, Greenland, Gibraltar, Monaco and San Marino.
The list is of countries with lower infection rates than Ireland’s and where, statistically, there is a much lesser chance of catching the infection there than in Ireland.
The UK – where the infection rate is three or four times that in Ireland – and the US where it is hundreds of times greater than in the UK or Ireland, are not on the list.
The publication– and even terminology– reflects confusion and division about it in Ireland’s new coalition government where the list is very much seen as a legacy of the outgoing Fine Gael government.
The general advice to avoid non-essential travel will apply to all other countries. People who arrive in Ireland from countries not on the green list will still have to restrict their movements.
Publication was delayed because the cabinet meeting had to wait for Taoiseach Micheál Martin to return from urgent Covid-19 heads-of-government budget discussions in Brussels.
‘Green List’ suggests, in traffic light terminology, that such countries are safe to visit – certainly safer than Ireland in terms of infection rates – but the Irish government stressed its official advice remains against all unnecessary travel overseas.
Consequently, Irish people travelling to those ‘safer’ countries have been told their travel insurance will be invalid and they will not have cover if they travel.
People here in the UK – including hundreds of thousands of Irish living here who return to see their families and friends – have been told they must only travel to Ireland if they spend 14 days in isolation, having registered with the authorities.
Yet there are countless stories of people from the UK and the US arriving and flouting those rules with businesses and even Gardai turning a blind eye.
Carriers and operators, notably Ryanair, are encouraging people to travel.
Ireland’s public health experts are firmly of the view that the greatest threat of a renewed surge in infections will come from travellers arriving or returning from infected countries given that there are 14.6 million cases globally and more than 600,000 deaths to date.
Here in the UK, where infections are said by officials to have stabilised except for local hot spots, ten per cent of those 600,000 deaths have happened despite the country representing just one per cent of the world’ population.
This is despite the fact that the vast majority of cases have developed locally in Ireland rather than being brought in from tourists.
There are also complications – and contradictions -arising from the fact that the UK allows travel between it and 59 other countries, meaning people can travel to Northern Ireland and travel freely to the Republic without checks.
Infectious diseases consultant Dr Jack Lambert at the Mater Hospital in Dublin said Irish public health policy is not to try to eliminate the coronavirus but to effectively manage it and deal with inevitable outbreaks, suggesting it could be with us all for three years.
The list will be reviewed every fortnight.
The National Public Health Emergency Team advice remains against all non-essential foreign travel, regardless of whether a country is on the green list or not.
Earlier, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar had questioned whether the green list should be published at all, if the NPHET advice remains in place.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn and other senior medics have stressed the green list should only be for essential travel and must not be seen as a green light for holidays.