Hundreds book tickets to fly in to Ireland before mandatory quarantine rules kick in

Huge surge seen in flights from US, as cabinet memo warns of ‘considerable uncertainty’ around capacity of existing system to cope

Passengers arrive from Dublin Airport at the Dublin Airport Holiday Inn Express Hotel, which is one of the hotels being used for mandatory quarantine Pic Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Fearghal O'Connor and Hugh O'Connell

Hundreds of people are booking flights to Ireland from the US this weekend, as they race to beat the new hotel quarantine requirement before it comes into force on Thursday, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

After the Government announced on Friday night that the US, Canada, France, Belgium, Italy, Turkey and 10 other countries would be added to the hotel quarantine list from 4am on Thursday, there was a surge in bookings on flights from the USA which will arrive in Dublin before then.

Large numbers of Irish and US citizens appear to be scrambling to get into the State before they would be required to spend up to two weeks in a hotel quarantine facility.

Two Aer Lingus flights from New York and Boston, which have had typically only around 20 to 25 passengers per day in recent months, each had over 110 people booked to fly this Tuesday.

Bookings started to surge overnight on Friday, following the Government announcement.

A well-placed source predicted both flights will each have over 200 passengers on them by the end of the weekend.

Another Aer Lingus route from Chicago saw a trebling of passenger numbers overnight on Friday for a flight this Tuesday, with a further surge in bookings expected in the coming days.

It is also understood that Aer Lingus has switched to a larger aircraft for the flight leaving Boston bound for Dublin on Tuesday.

The airline had been using a 184-seater Airbus A321 for the route in recent months, but the flight was switched to a 327-seater Airbus A330.

The same switch happened for last Tuesday’s flight, so it is unclear if the change for this week’s flight is directly related to the expected increase in passenger numbers.

Aer Lingus declined to comment last night.

Nonetheless, the surge in bookings will represent a significant jump in daily arrivals into the State from the US in recent weeks.

Aviation sources signalled last night that similar patterns are likely on other flights from the US and the other countries which are being added to the mandatory quarantine list.

Department of Transport data shows the average weekly number of arrivals from the US in March was 475 passengers — although in the seven-day period up to last Sunday, 735 passengers arrived from the US.

It comes as a confidential Government memo warns of “considerable uncertainty” around the capacity of the existing hotel quarantine system to cope with the addition of the 16 new countries.

The memo says the hotel quarantine operator Tifco currently has 654 rooms across four hotels, but will in the coming weeks be increasing capacity to 1,147 through the addition of two more hotels with capacity of 305 and 188 rooms respectively.

However, the memo warns that the capacity of the system to cope with the addition of the 16 new countries is contingent on a fall of between 80pc and 90pc in the numbers of passengers arriving from these countries, compared to the numbers in March.

A fall of only 70pc would leave the State short around 360 rooms for arriving passengers, but the memo states the possibility of adding a seventh hotel — located in the southeast in reasonable proximity to Rosslare, Co Wexford —  is being explored.

Of the available figures from the Department of Transport, the average number of weekly arrivals from the 16 countries that are being added to the quarantine list was 2,405.

However, in the week up to last Sunday, a total of 3,345 people arrived from these countries, including 1,300 from France and 905 from Turkey.

The increase in passenger bookings from the US this weekend is likely to be partly as a result of some rearranged bookings for flights originally scheduled for after Thursday.

But there is no significant change in the numbers of arrivals into Dublin Airport after Thursday when the hotel quarantine comes into effect.

This means that it is likely that most of the increase is due to newly-booked passengers, who may be anxious to get into Ireland before they are forced to spend up to two weeks in a hotel room.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said yesterday said that public health advice was the “fundamental rationale” for the 16 countries being added to the list, and said it would add “a greater degree of protection at this point in time”.

He said the overall Covid-19 situation had stabilised and that the vaccination programme offered hope for the summer.

“We should take hope from what has been happening over the last while, thanks to the efforts of the Irish people. We have kept the pressure on the virus, we have stabilised the situation,” he told RTÉ in Cork.

“The vaccination programme is working, in terms of its impact on mortality and infection and severe illness amongst those who have been vaccinated — and that gives us great hope for the coming period, and for the summer period.”

Yesterday the Department of Health was notified of 14 additional deaths and 455 new Covid-19 cases.

There has been a total of 4,783 Covid-related deaths in Ireland. The median age of those who died was 72.5 years.

With today's new cases, there have now been a total of 240,643 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.

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