WATCH: Too soon to book flights home for Christmas, Varadkar warns

WATCH: Too soon to book flights home for Christmas, Varadkar warns

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has warned people not to book flights home to Ireland for Christmas.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has warned people not to book flights home to Ireland for Christmas.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that it is "too soon" to book flights back to Ireland.

The advice will come as a devastating blow to families with just six weeks until the festive holidays.

"I think in terms of people booking flights to come home for Christmas, I'd advise them not to do that at the moment," Mr Varadkar said.

"I know that's difficult, I know that's tough, but Christmas is six weeks away and it's too soon now to be booking flights to come home.

"We're not in a position at this point to advise people that's safe to come home for Christmas and I know that's a tough message."

Mr Varadkar made the comments days after the Government unveiled new plans for international travellers.

The Government said that people travelling to Ireland from "red" listed regions will no longer have to restrict their movements once they receive a negative Covid-19 test after arriving in the country.

The test must be taken five days after arrival in Ireland.

The new travel rules are due to come into effect from midnight on November 29.

It had given a glimmer of hope to families hoping to be reunited at Christmas, as it limits the number of days people have to spend in self-isolation.

The government agreed the changes at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday in a bid to bring Ireland in line with the EU's traffic light system.

However, echoing recent comments by chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, Mr Varadkar warned that international travel is still a risk.

"I think we need to be honest and upfront about that," Mr Varadkar told the Dáil.

"If we can get the virus down to very low levels again, and we are doing really well on that regard, we are ahead of the projections in terms getting the virus under control.

"The average number of weekly cases is a quarter of what it was a few weeks ago, positivity rate has fallen.

"But there is a risk that as we get down to very low levels again that the country could be receded by people travelling in from overseas.

"In fact (it's) probably an even higher risk people engaged in north-south travel, where a different approach is being taken in Northern Ireland, that we could be receded from Northern Ireland, probably a much higher risk than flights from Qatar or Miami and one we need to bear in mind because Ireland is an island, but it's not an island state.

"We are never going to close the border and we are not in the same boat as other island nations."

Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shortall said it's important the Government doesn't engage in short-term thinking.

"I fully appreciate the importance of Christmas for people, for families especially and there are many of us, including myself, are in situation where family members who are living are living abroad haven't been able to come home for the past year," she said.

"We'd all really love to have some kind of normal Christmas and spend it with families.

"I also fully appreciate the importance of Christmas for the business community.

"It's really important that we don't engage in short-term thinking.

"We need to make it an absolute priority to keep downward pressure on the virus numbers and the last thing anyone wants, in public or in business, is that we would go into a third lockdown in January.

"It's important to bear in mind that public health considerations and business considerations are the two sides of the same coin."

The Government has given the green light to allow Covid-19 testing for passengers travelling through DAA airports in Dublin and Cork.

Passengers will be able to avail of tests before and after their flight at private testing facilities.

Tests are expected to cost between €100 and €200.

An Oireachtas committee was told on Thursday that the foreign affairs department has helped more than 8,000 Irish citizens return home safely from 126 countries during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said that Ireland has also allocated over 140 million euro to the global Covid-19 response.

Mr Coveney told the Oireachtas foreign affairs committee: "The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has left no corner of the globe untouched and the council has addressed it frequently.

"In the early months of the pandemic, we (EU Foreign Affairs Council) focused on co-ordinating consular assistance to EU citizens.

"The council also discussed how the EU could step up support for vulnerable countries.

"A co-ordinated Team Europe response package has provided over 35 billion euro to date."

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