Over 1,600 queries on new travel restrictions in the first week


The Foreign Office handled more than 1,600 calls and emails about the new travel restrictions in Ireland in the week following their introduction.

Officials will also tell TDs and senators that Ireland’s network of embassies in southern Africa has responded to hundreds of requests from people seeking to return home amid the flight bans imposed due to the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The Oireachtas Transport Committee will also hear from the Department of Transport on the drop in air and sea passengers to Ireland due to the pandemic, and the Department of Justice to take stock of the involvement of its agencies in the verification of health documents in Dublin. Airport.

Travel rules were tightened earlier this month with an obligation for passengers from seven southern African countries to self-quarantine at home upon arrival in Ireland.

And from December 5, all passengers arriving in Ireland must show proof of a professionally administered negative antigen or PCR test.

Foreign ministry officials will tell the transport committee on Wednesday that its consular teams are handling a high volume of calls and emails from citizens concerned about their travel plans or how the restrictions will affect their returning relatives. in Ireland.

It set up a dedicated hotline on December 2 and since then has handled over 1,100 calls and the service has responded to over 500 emails.

The Irish Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa engaged directly with around 200 citizens and their families who were trying to secure return flights to Ireland.

“The flights are now starting to resume and many affected citizens have returned to Ireland,” officials told the committee.

Politicians will also learn how a Ryanair plane was chartered by the department to repatriate 156 Irish, European and British citizens from Morocco after a travel ban on all inbound and outbound flights was imposed there in response to the new variant of Covid-19.

Restrictions

Deputy Secretary of the Department of Transport, Fintan Towey, will tell the committee that the number of air passengers fell 80% in 2020 from pre-pandemic levels.

Public health-related travel restrictions and the introduction of a mandatory quarantine mean that between January and June 2021, passenger numbers also fell by around 80%.

Non-essential travel reopened on July 19 through the use of an improved passenger tracking form and the EU’s Covid Digital Certificate (DCC) and by mid-September the number of passengers increased by 200 %.

However, the slower winter season has seen numbers drop again, and airports are still only operating between 50 and 60 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

He will say the number of sea passengers is still around 40% below pre-pandemic levels.

Mr Towey will say the department has engaged with air and sea carriers on introducing the requirement that all arrivals in Ireland produce proof of a negative Covid-19 test. The ministry informed them of the additional requirements to perform pre-board compliance checks.

Documentation

Justice Department Assistant Secretary Oonagh Buckley to tell TDs and Senators his Border Management Unit (BMU) plays an important role in verifying health documents, including DCCs and negative test results Covid-19.

All passengers arriving in Ireland were screened for health documents by July 19. However, a spot check was subsequently implemented to avoid long queues at immigration.

Ms Buckley will say the spot check has been extended to include PCR and antigen testing under the latest travel restrictions.

His opening statement said: “The BMU has significantly increased the level of spot checks of arriving passengers in recent days, both during peak and off-peak hours. Importantly, this increase in spot checks has not resulted in a significant increase in non-compliance detections.

“We know the compliance rate is very high and we thank the traveling public for their cooperation in this regard. “


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