Ireland is scared that visiting Americans will make coronavirus cases surge

can americans travel to ireland coronavirus quarantine to look at this photo's oceanside view?
Photo via Luca Sartoni/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

In the European Union, dozens of countries have banned American tourists because of the nation’s high number of COVID-19 infections (along with Mexico and Canada). Notably, the United Kingdom has kept its borders open—and both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are not thrilled about it. Especially because Americans can travel to the Republic of Ireland.

When American travelers arrive in Ireland, they are technically required to fill out a COVID-19 Passenger Locator Form and agree to participate in a 14-day self-quarantine. But NBC News reported that business owners say the country has not enforced the rules, putting the burden on them if they want to keep coronavirus cases down. Currently, Ireland doesn’t check to see if visitors comply with the isolation order or punish violators. 

Not even Ireland’s E.U. commissioner for trade followed those quarantine rules after attending an 81-person dinner in Brussels, and he had to resign from his post in late August.

In mid-July, the Republic of Ireland Prime Minister Simon Coveney said international tourists “should not come to Ireland if they are unable to restrict their movements when they arrive,” according to the BBC

By the beginning of October, health experts were recommending that the country be shut down, and by the middle of the month, the Irish government decided to lock down for six weeks, meaning most people have to stay within three miles of their homes. That reportedly caused 85,000 people to claim jobless benefits in the two weeks after those lockdowns began, though hundreds of thousands of doses of a potential new vaccine could help steer the country through the pandemic. Even after the lockdown was over, people weren’t allowed to leave their county unless it was essential.

By January, Ireland had briefly banned travelers from Great Britain and South Africa, where two of the most contagious COVID-19 variants had emerged, and officials said people must produce a negative COVID-19 test before they can enter the country. Then, travelers will still need to quarantine for two weeks.

But it hasn’t helped yet. By mid-January, Ireland had the highest number of coronavirus cases per capita in the world.

Ireland relies on the economic boost it gets from American tourists. NBC News reported that more than 2 million tourists from the U.S. and Canada visit the country annually, typically bringing in $2 billion to the tourism industry. The New York Times reported that American visitors are the largest source of tourism revenue for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It accounted for 28% of foreign spending in 2018, according to Tourism Ireland.

Now, business owners have to decide if the added income from tourism is worth potentially contracting COVID-19. Many don’t think it’s worth the risk. And they’re not alone: After all, Mexico and Canada have closed their borders with the U.S. until at least Feb. 21. 

Making matters even scarier was the news in October that an international flight to Ireland during the summer had been linked to 59 positive cases. It’s unclear where the flight originated, but 13 people from that flight ended up infecting 46 people after they landed in Ireland.

For what it’s worth, Ireland ranks No. 42 in the world with 3,823 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, as of Jan. 25. The U.S. ranks No. 7 with 7,688 cases per 100,000 people. The world leader is Andorra with 12,439 cases per 100,000 people.

So, can Americans still travel to Ireland? The answer is yes, but it’s going to be much harder to do so in late January 2021 than it was in the first nine months of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sources: Business Insider, NBC News, BBC, New York Times, National Geographic

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