DUBLIN (Reuters) - New Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin said on Monday he would take a cautious approach to opening up air travel after health authorities warned this could reignite the coronavirus crisis in Ireland.
The caretaker government of outgoing prime minister Leo Varadkar, who is now Martin’s deputy, agreed last week to ease travel restrictions from July 9 with countries that have reduced transmission rates to a low level.
But Ireland’s chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, said on Friday he was “beyond worried” that the country’s current low level of infections - a daily average of nine over the last week - could increase when air travel resumes.
Philip Nolan, Ireland’s top epidemiologist, added that the number of travel-related infections had increased to 11% of confirmed weekly cases after falling to zero three weeks ago, describing this as “a grave concern.”
He told national broadcaster RTE on Monday that this was an early warning sign and that unnecessary travel abroad is just too big a risk to be allowed to happen.
Martin said he wanted to hear directly from Holohan but that “caution has to be the order of the day”.
“The idea of the air bridge between countries where transmission rates are low will be on the agenda. But I will of course take seriously what the Chief Medical Officer has to say. The virus has been well controlled in Ireland and air travel opens up new risks,” he told the Irish Examiner newspaper.
Ireland now requires those arriving in the country, including residents returning from abroad, to self-isolate for 14 days and, since March, has advised citizens against non-essential foreign travel.
New Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said on Sunday that while a “green list” of countries people could travel to would be published on July 9, that may not be the date international travel would resume.
Restaurants, hairdressers and most pubs in Ireland resumed trading for the first time since March on Monday to almost fully complete the reopening of the economy from lockdown.