Ireland at odds with EU Commission and member states over Covid quarantine – dpa international

Ireland's lockdown rules have meant cafes only serving take-away drinks and food for most of the past year (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A rare row brewed on Friday between the usually pro-EU Irish Government and the European Commission, over Dublin forcing arrivals from five European Union member states to quarantine in hotels. Responding to criticism from the commission, Ireland’s Justice Minister Helen McEntee told broadcaster RTÉ the measures are “proportionate and reasonable.” Last month Ireland imposed mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals, including returning Irish, from countries regarded as hard-hit by the pandemic. Spokesman Christian Wigand said on Friday that the commission sent a letter to the Irish Government questioning the rules, which include EU members Austria, Belgium, France, Italy and Luxembourg among the 71 listed countries. “Less restrictive” measures could be used, Wigand said, including exempting “essential” travel within the bloc.

Irish airport traffic nosedives due to pandemic and related travel rules – dpa international

Ireland West Airport saw no passengers for 3 months of 2020 as travel slowed to a crawl after a pandemic was declared (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Footfall at Ireland’s airports plunged last year, according to official data released on Wednesday, with numbers down almost 80 per cent compared to 2019. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) said almost 8.3 million passengers passed through Irish airports in 2020, down from roughly 38 million the year before. Almost 5 million of the 2020 total passed through the airports in January and February, before numbers plummeted in the wake of the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic in March and governments imposing lockdowns and travel curbs. The fourth quarter of 2020 saw an even bigger fall, with passenger numbers down 90 per cent compared to late 2019. The CSO said the decreases “are associated with the restrictions imposed due to Covid-19.”

Pandemic restrictions mean two-thirds of borders are fully or partly closed – dpa international

DUBLIN — Pandemic restrictions have completely or partly closed two-thirds of destinations worldwide to international tourism, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNTWO), a United Nations agency. One year on from the World Health Organization labelling the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, 69 out of 217 destinations remain “completely closed,” the UNTWO said on Monday in its latest Travel Restrictions Report. Around the same number of destinations are “partially closed,” the UNWTO calculated. Thirty-eight of the 69 completely-closed destinations have been that way for at least 40 weeks, the UNWTO said, noting “regional differences” in how curbs are applied.

Ireland’s GDP up 3.4 per cent in 2020 but other measures show decline – dpa international

Sign outside business park in Castlebar, Ireland. IDA Ireland is the country's main foreign investment agency (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by an estimated 3.4 per cent last year, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), an expansion driven by foreign business and exports but coming as domestic output shrank. “Multinational sector growth was 18.2 per cent in 2020 while non-MNE [multinational enterprise]-dominated sectors declined by 9.5 per cent,” the CSO said on Friday. Ireland reported a record 160.8 billion euros (198 billion dollars) in goods exports last year, but businesses geared towards the small domestic market “experienced significantly lower levels of economic activity,” according to the CSO’s Jennifer Banim, with hotels, restaurants and construction hit hard as personal spending fell by 9 per cent. US multinationals in sectors that have enjoyed surging global demand during the pandemic, including pharmaceuticals and big tech, have European headquarters in Ireland – drawn by low taxes and EU membership. Amazon and Microsoft were among the American corporate giants to announce expansions in Ireland last year. According to Finance Minister Pascal Donohoe, “the pharma and ICT sectors recorded extraordinary export growth, driven by blockbuster immunological drugs, Covid related products, and the shift to home-working.”

Pandemic curbs set tourism back three decades, according to UN body – dpa international

Some retailers open, some not, along central Dublin street in June (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN  — International arrivals have likely dropped by over 70 per cent in 2020 due to pandemic-related restrictions, taking overall tourism and travel numbers back to 1990 levels. The United Nations’ World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said on Thursday that it “expects international arrivals to decline by 70% to 75% for the whole of 2020,” after the January-October period showed “900 million fewer international tourists when compared with the same period of 2019.” Such an outcome would mean that “global tourism will have returned to levels of 30 years ago,” according to the UNWTO, when the world’s population was over 2 billion less than it is now. The travel collapse could mean “a loss of some 1.1 trillion dollars in international tourism receipts,” according to the UNWTO.

Ryanair loses court challenge to Ireland’s pandemic travel rules – dpa international

Irish tourism destination such as this beach on Achill, an Atlantic coast island, are mostly empty (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN —  Ryanair has endorsed a Friday ruling by Ireland’s High Court that the government’s pandemic-related travel measures are advisory rather than mandatory. Despite losing the case, the said airline it “welcomes” the decision as it “confirms there is no legal requirement for the current travel restrictions.” Backed by Aer Lingus, formerly Ireland’s state carrier, Ryanair sued the government in July over the guidelines, which it claimed were presented as “mandatory” and were imposed without parliamentary oversight. Opining that the measures are neither compulsory nor an abuse of power, Justice Garrett Simons said on Friday that “advice to avoid non-essential travel and to restrict movement on entry to the state is just that: advice.”

UN agency data suggest Asia worst-hit by pandemic curbs – dpa international

A near-deserted street in Kuala Lumpur during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — International travel has plummeted during the novel coronavirus pandemic, with nowhere worse affected than the Asia-Pacific region, according to United Nations tourism body data.International arrivals across the region have dropped 72 per cent so far in 2020, according to the data, which was compiled for the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) new Tourism Recovery Tracker.International arrivals in the Asia-Pacific were down 99 per cent year-on-year, a standstill that came after countries imposed strict lockdowns and holiday bans aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. China, Japan and South Korea were among the worst affected, with the UNWTO tracker showing an 83-per-cent drop in tourist arrivals across northeast Asia as most countries prohibited all but essential travel.

Ryanair to cut capacity by 20 per cent, blames pandemic travel rules – dpa international

Bleak midwinter at Dublin Airport (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ryanair said on Friday that it will slash capacity by 20 per cent in October, blaming coronavirus travel curbs introduced at short notice. The Dublin-based airline said that “EU government travel restrictions and policies” aimed at stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus “undermine consumers’ willingness to make forward bookings.” Announcing its second 20 per cent capacity reduction since August, Ryanair accused the Irish government of keeping the country “locked up like North Korea” and of operating “a defective” quarantine system that means arrivals from most countries, some with lower infection rates than Ireland, are expected to self-isolate for 14 days. Supported by Aer Lingus, Ireland’s flag carrier airline, Ryanair has taken the government to court over the curbs, which will not be aligned with EU guidelines until mid-October.

UN tourism agency knocks ‘timid’ leaders, says safe travel possible – dpa international

Before the pandemic and restrictions, scenes such as this in Melaka, a town in southern Malaysia that is a popular tourist destination, were common (Simon Roughneen)

LIMERICK — The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), a United Nations agency, on Tuesday criticized governments for being “overly focused” on health and described as “not enough” the “re-opening of borders to tourism” seen to date. The agency wants governments “to do everything they can to get people travelling again,” citing the “the sudden and rapid fall in tourist arrivals” caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Governments have a “responsibility to protect businesses and livelihoods,” the Madrid-based agency said, pointing to estimates published in July that showed the collapse in travel between January and May as having cost up to 320 billion dollars – three times the losses to tourism incurred during the 2007-09 financial crisis and equivalent to Colombia’s gross domestic product.

Singapore and China to reopen some travel in June – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — A “fast lane” for business and “essential” travel between Singapore and China will open next week, allowing some flights to resume between the two countries after a four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to officials. A Singapore Foreign Ministry statement released late Friday said that travel will initially be allowed between Singapore and six Chinese cities and regions, including Shanghai and Guangdong. Though the two countries have reported the most coronavirus cases in East Asia, Singapore believes “the prevention and control of Covid-19 and the economic and social recovery” in both to have “entered a new phase.” While the majority of China’s 84,160 reported coronavirus cases were diagnosed early in the year – after the virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading around the world – Singapore’s caseload has increased 33-fold since April 1, with thousands of foreign workers infected.