By Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries
DUBLIN, July 1 – Ryanair used its return to a more regular schedule on Wednesday to pile pressure on its home market of Ireland to ease travel restrictions in a debate that has pitted airline bosses against increasingly cautious health officials.
Ireland’s then caretaker government said last week it planned to lift a 14-day quarantine for anyone travelling to and from countries that have also suppressed the coronavirus from July 9 and would publish a list of safe countries.
However, new prime minister Micheál Martin, appointed last weekend, said on Monday he would take a cautious approach to opening up air travel after health authorities warned this could reignite the coronavirus crisis in Ireland.
“We can’t say we’re somehow different, close the doors and throw away the keys. On that basis we may as well move out to the Aran Islands,” Eddie Wilson, chief executive of Ryanair’s main airline unit, told the Newstalk radio station, referring to the tiny Irish islands off its west coast.
“We’ll have zero cases of COVID maybe momentarily, we’ll have zero jobs and we’ll have zero tourists … The one country that’s sitting out in the northwest of the Atlantic that needs air travel most is saying that we’re actually closed.”
In an interview with Reuters, Ryanair Group Chief Executive Michael O’Leary said Ireland’s chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, was being over-cautious and should stick to health, not travel advice.
Ryanair, Europe’s largest budget carrier, ramped up its flights from Dublin on Wednesday as it returned to a more regular schedule, even as the Irish government’s advice remained that citizens should not travel abroad for non-essential reasons.
Cillian De Gascun, the country’s top virologist, said on Wednesday the importation of cases from abroad was now the biggest risk to Ireland’s low level of infections, while one of Martin’s ministers was highly critical of Wilson’s intervention.
“Haven’t found myself shouting at the radio in quite a while but that interview on air travel and COVID-19 changed all that,” Higher Education Minister Simon Harris, who until last week was health minister and the public face of the crisis, tweeted.
“As a citizen, I’ll keep taking my public health advice from our Chief Medical Officer and would recommend you do likewise.” (Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Mark Potter)