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Transport Minister suggests international air travel won't be an option for many before mid-August

Only then might the need for pre-flight PCR testing and mandatory quarantining be done away with for those fully vaccinated, he said

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan

Senan Molony

International air travel will not be an option for many before mid-August, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan has suggested to the Dáil.

Only then might the need for pre-flight PCR testing and mandatory quarantining be done away with for those fully vaccinated, he said.

“Given that the digital green certificate might not be in widespread use until at least mid-August, it would not seem reasonable to expect fully vaccinated people to wait for the digital green certificate before allowing freedom from current pre-arrival PCR and quarantine requirements,” Mr Ryan said.

While the green cert comes in on July 1, European regulations allow six weeks for its introduction, leading to the mid-August date mentioned by the minister.

Mr Ryan said work was well advanced on introducing an Irish version of the digital green certificate. The system here was “substantially developed” and the print-out cert will be available free of charge.

On PCR tests and quarantine, Mr Ryan said there was a need for pragmatism “to allow for an early discontinuation of these public health requirements for fully vaccinated people”.

This would allow them to travel within the EU and to and from certain EEA countries and the US.

But he said the status of variants must also be favourable for international travel to return and for the current advice against non-essential travel to be lifted.

“Each week we have seen countries being removed from the list of specified countries for variants of concern under the mandatory hotel quarantine regime. This is a positive sign,” he said.

International connectivity would be critical to economic recovery, he added, as TDs pressed for early action to restore the aviation sector.

Mr Ryan agreed that getting air travel back was vital for the continued economic well-being of this country and said it remained a priority for the Government.

“However, this can only be accomplished through consideration of the progress of our national vaccination programme, developments at EU and international level, and public health advice.”

His warning comes as a further 365 new cases of Covid-19 were reported today, according to the Department of Health.

There are 103 Covid-19 patients in hospital, a fall from 127 yesterday. The number of patients in intensive call fell slightly to 41 from 44 yesterday.

Global aviation was experiencing its most challenging crisis in its history, he acknowledged as Aer Lingus pilots demonstrated outside the Dáil yesterday.

Scheduled flights are down by 60pc in Europe and half the fleet was grounded at the end of last year, representing over 4,000 aircraft.

But the impact on passenger traffic was greater than on the number of flights – because there were far fewer passengers in the flights that did get off the ground.

Passenger numbers were as low as 3pc for airports in this State, he said, and there had been a collapse in forward bookings.

This had led to companies taking action to ‘right-size’, including redundancies and staff reduction measures.

The crisis had also significantly increased the cost of air freight for the export sector, increasing the cost of doing business.

There was “a strong likelihood” that unless the Government signalled an easing of restrictions next Friday, major employers will be forced to take further action to cut costs, he said.

But the greater risk by far was that failing to restore connectivity would have further consequences for tourism, business generally and foreign direct investment, he said.

Mr Ryan noted that the European organisation for the safety of air navigation had suggested in new research that air traffic across Europe would not return to 2019 levels before 2025.

He said he was confident that Ireland would “in due course” be in a position to join in the digital green certificate system for international travel within Europe.

The digital green certificate would be available, free of charge, in digital or paper format. It will include a QR code to ensure security and authenticity.

The European Commission will build a gateway to ensure all certificates can be verified across the EU, he said.

“Our own system is substantially developed to enable vaccination proof for an individual on request, compliant with EU standards.”

Vaccinated people should not be subject to mandatory hotel quarantine.

Fully vaccinated people should in future not be subject to pre-arrival testing or quarantine requirements, he said.

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