Call for Covid-19 testing at airports for Christmas

Call for Covid-19 testing at airports for Christmas


File Photo: © Pat Flynn 2019

The Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks has today written to Minister Eamon Ryan welcoming the Government’s adoption of the EU traffic light system for international travel from midnight on Sunday, 8 November, and calling on the Minister to ensure testing for Covid-19 at Irish airports is a central element of its implementation.

The Committee also wants the Minister to develop an immediate traffic light system for countries outside of the EU, such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA, in order to provide clarity to the diaspora regarding travel home for Christmas.

Committee Chair Deputy Kieran O’Donnell told the Minister for Transport that, based on the evidence the Committee had over the last month from a range of national and international stakeholders, Members believe that increased testing is the key to ensuring the viability of the aviation sector in Ireland, while safeguarding the protection of public health and reducing the risk of Covid-19.

The Committee is calling on the Government to:

Ensure as a matter of urgency that capacity for PCR testing of passengers after a five-day period of restricted movement following arrival from red countries is in place by no later than 1 December 2020 to enable travel over the Christmas period;

Ensure information on the implementation of the EU traffic light system in Ireland is clear, concise and easily accessible by the public;

Liaise with airports and other EU Member States to ensure a consistent approach to pre-departure testing is in place across Europe, well in advance of the Christmas period;

Liaise with airlines to ensure clear, concise messaging is provided to airline companies, their staff and passengers as regards the specifics of the traffic light system and how individuals avail of testing;

Work with Irish airports to pro-actively enable the development of testing infrastructure with the requisite capacity to ensure pre-departure testing and testing at arrival for passengers;

Engage proactively with NPHET, HIQA and other EU Member States on emerging rapid testing methods. This would also include investing in research to identify alternative high-quality rapid testing methods as an alternative or to supplement the PCR testing system for persons travelling in and out of the country;

The immediate advancement of further necessary State supports to Irish airports to ensure their viability and survival, as well as State funding for strategic air routes.

Ryanair has been critical of the government’s travel policy – Photo: © Pat Flynn 2018

Deputy O’Donnell said: “The aviation sector has been devastated by the Covid-19 crisis, with airlines cancelling nearly all flights and passenger numbers down by 95 per cent. Although the epidemiological situation remains grave, there does appear to be some hopeful signs of a reduction in case numbers in Ireland. Now is the time to plan for the months ahead. Restoring the aviation sector and reducing Covid-19 risk are not incompatible.

“The Joint Committee has heard evidence from our airports that they have been working to develop the testing infrastructure and capacity to carry out PCR testing of passengers. We urge Minister Ryan to work with the airports on building the necessary system for testing passengers pre-departure and on arrival in Ireland.

“In our engagements with the airlines and airports, we were briefed on the testing system at Rome Airport, which has been seen as innovative within the aviation industry. This we believe is a model that should be considered for Irish airports.

“The Committee also heard from the Chief Medical Officer, Tony Holohan, that it is important that countries adopt approaches that facilitate travel, especially essential travel, while ensuring that those who need to travel are not posing an additional risk to the wider population. Dr Holohan also said NPHET believed that should testing of asymptomatic passengers be introduced, a five-to seven-day period of restricted movement, with a symptom check and test on day five, is the most efficient method to contain importation of the virus.

“Minister Ryan told the Committee that a cross-Departmental technical working group will report back to Government on 10 November with a plan to establish approved Covid-19 tests for international arrivals. It is vital that this plan is implemented urgently.

“Given the importance of the aviation sector our strategic connectivity and to our economic recovery, now is the time to be proactive and ensure that a suite of measures is in place to ensure a sustainable and safe aviation sector as restrictions are eased and demand increases.”

Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks

Chair – Kieran O’Donnell TD, Fine Gael

Joe Carey TD, Fine Gael (Clare)

Cathal Crowe TD, Fianna Fáil (Clare)

Michael Lowry TD, Independent

Steven Matthews TD, Green Party

James O’Connor TD, Fianna Fáil

Darren O’Rourke TD, Sinn Féin

Duncan Smith TD, Labour Party

Ruairí Ó Murchú TD, Sinn Féin

Senator Jerry Buttimer,  Fine Gael

Senator Timmy Dooley, Fianna Fáil (Clare)

Senator Rónán Mullen, Independent

Senator Ned O’Sullivan, Fianna Fáil