Irish expats have reacted with fury after being told they shouldn’t expect to be allowed home for Christmas this year – with some vowing to make the journey regardless.
Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s deputy head of government, yesterday warned people not to book flights home for the holidays, while the country’s chief medical officer Tony Holohan branded Christmas travel ‘non-essential’.
Leaders in France, Germany and Sweden have also warned travel restrictions are likely to apply over the festive season, advising people not to plan large gatherings or invite relatives who will need to travel long distances.
Ireland imposed a strict six-week lockdown on October 19 that banned people from travelling more than three miles from their own homes, while closing all non-essential businesses. Anyone arriving in Ireland from overseas, including Irish citizens, must currently quarantine for 14 days. Arrivals from Northern Ireland are exempt.
Conor Moroney, an Irishman living in London, told the Irish Times: ‘I have my flights booked and will be coming home this year for Christmas. Leo Varadkar’s recent comments were deflection tactics.
‘With no strategy, plan or fresh thinking… as to how the country moves forward in “living with the virus” please excuse me if I take responsibility for my own life decisions now. See you in December.’
Kate O’Connor, who was also planning on coming back to Ireland from London, added: ‘Have already booked flights. It’s been an incredibly tough year and I haven’t seen family since last Christmas.
‘I live alone in a small flat in London with no outside space and the thought of Christmas is all that is keeping me going from a mental health perspective.
‘I plan on isolating for 10 days and getting tested here before I go home and then will isolate for a further 5 days and get tested in Ireland before seeing family.’
Coronavirus cases have begun falling in some European hotspots after lockdowns were introduced, even as leaders and health experts warned they might not be falling fast enough for Christmas celebrations to take place
Deaths from coronavirus – which typically lag two weeks behind case rises – are still increasing across most European countries, with France warning that one in four deaths is now due to the disease
Ireland imposed a strict six-week lockdown on October 19 that means people cannot travel further than three miles from home, and closed all non-essential businesses. That has led to a drop in cases (left) while deaths have remained low (right)
In Ireland, ministers and health experts have warned that people might not be allowed to travel home for Christmas amid fears they will bring the virus with them from hotspots in Europe and the US (pictured, a mask-wearing man in Dublin)
Jarlath Regan, an Irish comic, also vowed to do ‘whatever it takes’ to get home for the festive season, adding: ‘There ain’t no Christmas like an Irish Christmas.’
Despite the backlash, Mary Lou McDonald – leader of opposition party Sinn Fein – also admitted on Friday that it is ‘unlikely’ that large numbers of Irish people would be allowed home for Christmas.
Aisling Henrard from Tipperary, who now lives in Brussels, broke down in tears when contacted by RTE, saying she wanted to bring her two young children home to see their grandparents – plans that now appear to be in tatters.
‘The only people I will see are my family. I am not going out on the town, or hanging around shopping centres. I just literally want to bring my children home to see their grandparents,’ she said.
‘It has been a really tough year, not coming home. I miss my mum and statements like this are just another kick in the teeth for us.’
Audrey Eager, who is from Dublin but now lives in London, said Mr Varadkar’s comments had left her ‘absolutely livid’ and accused him of ‘washing his hands’ of the Irish diaspora.
‘Where is the direction, where is the planning, where is the common sense in this?,’ she fumed. ‘This is my country rejecting me – and if I think too much about it I will get upset.’
Declan Ganley, a British-born Irish entrepreneur and activist, added: ‘The flights were mostly booked weeks ago. They’re coming home to their families across the nation.
‘That is what Irish families do, and have always done, our children come home for Christmas. They’re generally smart people, they will be responsible. They are the best of us.’
Meanwhile Aisling Murray tweeted: ‘[Varadkar] lets absolutely everybody into the Country in the height of the pandemic and now decides the IRISH shouldn’t be booking flights home for Christmas. Happy Christmas Leo.’
Ryanair condemned Mr Varadkar’s comments, saying they appear to violate guidance being given by the European Center for Disease Control, which allows Irish people to travel home after getting a negative Covid test.
‘Aviation is a critical part of national infrastructure and the Tanaiste, who is responsible for job creation, should be supporting the system instead of undermining it,’ a spokesman said.
The warnings came as virus cases on the continent continued to spike, even after harsh new lockdown measures were put in place to combat a second wave of infections.
The European Center for Disease Control has warned that transmission of the virus is still high across the continent, with the effect of new lockdown measures not yet showing in the data
Even in lockdown-free Sweden (pictured, central Stockholm) the country’s top virus expert has been forced to admit that travel over the festive period might not be allowed, and advised people to plan small gatherings
Germany reported a record number of virus cases on Friday with 23,542 infections confirmed in a 24-hour period, while the UK also reported a record 33,470 cases on Thursday.
Following the German announcement, Spahn said it was ‘too early to tell’ whether additional measures introduced on November 1 – including the closure of all bars and restaurants – was doing enough to curb virus cases.
Spahn warned that it was unlikely life would go back to normal in December and said winter events like office Christmas parties, birthdays and wedding were unlikely to go ahead.
‘We never said that November would be so hard and then everything would be like before.’
Bavarian premier Markus Soeder also cautioned against lifting curbs too quickly, saying: ‘If we just lower the numbers a little bit now and stop too soon, we might fall into a constant alternation of lockdown and opening.
‘That would be hard for people to understand. Therefore, we have to continue with the treatment we have started until successful.’
Meanwhile in France, Mr Castex gave an update on the country’s new full-scale lockdown Thursday – two weeks after people were all-but banned from leaving their houses, except for essential activity.
The Prime Minister revealed that hospital admissions in France are now at an all-time high, with one in four deaths linked to the virus.
But, he said, the number of people infected per 100,000 has been dropping for 10 days, and the number of virus patients is hospitals is expected to peak early next week.
‘That’s good news, but not sufficient’ to lift lockdowns just yet, Castex said as he announced that the current restrictions will continue until at least December 1.
Even after December 1, he warned that things will not return to how they were over the summer, with restaurants, bars, gyms and tourist sites will remain closed until further notice.
He also warned that people should not be planning any big Christmas or New Year’s parties. However, he said that if hospitalization rates start to slow, the government can start allowing stores selling non-essential goods to reopen in December.
Castex promised ‘massive economic support’ for businesses forced to close, after hundreds of billions already spent to keep people employed and to keep businesses afloat.
Meanwhile in Sweden, chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was forced to acknowledge that the country is battling a second wave of the pandemic after suggesting in August such a scenario was unlikely.
‘I don’t think the definition is that important, but we see community spread in many regions simultaneously right now,’ Tegnell said.
Sweden registered 4,658 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, just below a daily record set last week, in a resurgence of the virus that has seen hospitalisations and intensive care admissions mount.
Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer of Ireland, warned people that holiday travel will likely be considered ‘non-essential’ and banned, while Leo Varadkar (right) said it is too early to start planning trips
In France there are now more coronavirus patients in hospital than at the peak of the crisis in April, with one in four deaths currently attributed to the disease
Tegnell played down hopes that Sweden’s severe spring outbreak of the virus might offer sizable protection through widespread immunity, something he had previously suggested would be the case.
He also warned that travel restrictions could change between now and Christmas, and warned people not to make plans for large-scale gatherings.
‘We are working on it right now, hopefully in a few weeks we will be able to be clear about what we want,’ he said.
Speaking three weeks ago, Tegnell had warned that Christmas gatherings would likely be impacted by the virus, with older relatives having to stay away.
People should not plan large family parties with guests who travel from all over the country, Tegnell said at the time, adding that he plans to celebrate Christmas with a small group of his closest relatives.
Europe’s benchmark stock index fell on Friday, setting up to end its second straight week of gains on a glum note, as surging coronavirus cases compounded fears of the damage to the bloc’s economy in the coming winter months.
The pan-European STOXX 600 was down 0.3% by 0805 GMT after jumping earlier this week on optimism around a working COVID-19 vaccine. The index has gained about 12% in the past two weeks, also buoyed by hopes of calmer global trade under U.S. President-elect Joe Biden.
France’s CAC 40 index lost 0.1% as Prime Minister Jean Castex said there would be no immediate easing of a second COVID-19 lockdown, with the number of hospitalisations now higher than at the peak of the first wave.
The energy index led declines, falling 1.4% with banking and travel stocks also dropping more than 0.8% in early trading.
In company news, French power group EDF fell 0.3% after reporting a decline in third-quarter revenue as the COVID-19 pandemic sapped electricity demand and weighed on nuclear energy output in France.