Ireland has remained on the UK’s travel corridors list, despite speculation that it would be removed due to its rising number of infections. The country’s 'R' rate is now above 30.
This means that no quarantine is currently in place for visitors returning to the UK from the Republic of Ireland, though this may change in the coming weeks if cases continue to rise.
Ireland currently has 34 cases per 100,000. Northern Ireland has 37, England 35, Wales 33 and Scotland 26.
In practice, however, most within the UK are still unable to travel to Ireland without quarantining – while Ireland is on the UK’s list of travel corridors, this has not been reciprocated. Currently, those from Scotland, Wales and England are subject to Ireland’s 14-day quarantine rule on arrival, but Northern Ireland is exempt from this as an area of common travel.
Ireland is now beginning to consider a crackdown on areas where the virus is prevalent, particularly in regards to its capital. The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is meeting this evening to decide whether Dublin will have to go back under restrictions.
It is expected that NPHET will be advising the government to reimpose restrictions following the meeting. Wednesday saw 254 new cases confirmed in the Republic, with 136 cases – 55 per cent – found in the Irish capital.
Ireland’s Government unveiled a medium-term plan on Tuesday (Sept 15), aimed at suppressing the spread of coronavirus, without having to close down great swathes of the country. Most are anticipating Dublin to move from Level 2 to Level 3 of the plan's core structure by this weekend.
A move back to Level 3 will see Dubliners barred from leaving the country unless for work or other essential purposes. People will only be allowed to have visitors from one other household in their home, with no other social gatherings allowed outside these confines. Museums, galleries and other cultural attractions all close under Level 3, but gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools will remain open. Additional restrictions will be placed on indoor dining.
If infection rates continue to rise despite the restrictions, it may put the UK government in a difficult position.
Currently, Northern Ireland is exempt from quarantining when they arrive into the Republic, due to the common travel area. If the UK was to impose a quarantine for those arriving from the Republic, the question would be over whether Northern Ireland would also be exempt from this.
Aside from the political ramifications of imposing a quarantine on one part of a common travel area, the practicalities would also prove a potential nightmare.
In July, a leaked letter from Health Minister Robin Swann to his counterpart in the Republic of Ireland, spoke of "serious impediments when it comes to enforcing or monitoring" those required to self-quarantine when crossing the border.
Visitors arriving to the island of Ireland must complete a locator form within 48 hours of crossing the border, but this is done on a good faith basis. “We have no way of tracing them for spot checks," said Mr Swann, of those who failed to complete the form.
If a quarantine was imposed on one side of the border, the same issues would apply. Given the UK's poor track record of checking up on arrivals from further afield, it's likely any quarantine may end up undertaken at the returnee's own discretion.
This may be one reason Ireland remains on the FCO’s list of exempt countries – it may not be worth wading into the issue of cross-border travel unless the Republic’s infection rate goes completely haywire.
Due to these ongoing issues, it's also been posited that Brits desperate for a quarantine-free holiday in the Republic could do so under this Northern Irish ‘loophole’, by travelling to the region and heading across the border there.
However, Brits hoping for a quarantine-free holiday in the Republic would still be ill-advised to attempt to do so via Northern Ireland, largely because hotels are requiring guests to provide proof of a Northern Irish or Irish address before allowing them to stay, as well as contact tracing measures in place in restaurants and bars.
In theory, the Northern Ireland border may provide a loophole to Brits hoping to fly under the radar for a holiday, but in practice it’s far less easy.
Which is to say the impact of whether Ireland remains off or on the UK travel corridors list is minimal for Brits, while they still have to quarantine for 14 days should they choose to travel to the country.
No hint of a date for the resumption of quarantine-free travel to the Republic for British visitors has been given yet, and with the counties of Louth, Waterford and Donegal all under the magnifying glass for a rise in cases alongside Dublin, it’s unlikely the Irish government will be keen on allowing more visitors to arrive into the country.