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As Europe opens up, is air travel putting us at risk of new wave?

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People walk on Las Canteras beach in Gran Canara as some Spanish provinces are allowed to ease lockdown restrictions during phase two

People walk on Las Canteras beach in Gran Canara as some Spanish provinces are allowed to ease lockdown restrictions during phase two

REUTERS

People walk on Las Canteras beach in Gran Canara as some Spanish provinces are allowed to ease lockdown restrictions during phase two

It's been a tough journey but as the coronavirus is "virtually eliminated" in the State, will the biggest risk of a new wave of infection come from airline passengers travelling here?

The debate about making a two-week quarantine mandatory for these passengers is set to intensify. And what is the advice for people in this country who may be tempted to take a holiday abroad?

From today it will be mandatory for airline passengers landing here to fill out a locator form, giving contact and address details.

They will be strongly advised that they should self-quarantine for two weeks.

This would cover the incubation period for the virus and reduce the risk of them passing it on.

Penalties

They will need to find their own transportation from the airport and accommodation.

Penalties of up to €2,500 can be imposed for refusing to fill out the form, but although requested to self-quarantine, it is not a legal requirement.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has written to Health Minister Simon Harris recommending the 14-day quarantine on arrival here should be mandatory.

It also suggested passengers could be accommodated in a designated facility but Mr Harris said this was tricky legally.

Italy has a law that anyone who breaches quarantine after arrival can face a fine of up to €3,000.

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Restaurant staff with facemasks and socially distanced tables on Ocean Drive on South Beach, Miami, Florida

Restaurant staff with facemasks and socially distanced tables on Ocean Drive on South Beach, Miami, Florida

REUTERS

Restaurant staff with facemasks and socially distanced tables on Ocean Drive on South Beach, Miami, Florida

If someone has tested positive for Covid-19 and failed to quarantine they could face a prison sentence of between one and five years. This is expected to be lifted on June 3.

Until May 15, anyone entering Germany was subject to 14 days' home quarantine but arrivals from the EU and UK are now exempt.

Nphet said it was concerned that as the number of domestic cases of the virus here declines and we move toward easing lockdown measures, the risk of importation of cases from overseas increases.

People with the virus returning here from Italy earlier this year is how the infection was first brought into the State.

The experience of countries like China shows how, when restrictions are lifted, inward airline travel poses a big threat.

It found that post-lockdown there was a flow of virus from abroad.

Testing and tracing, along with mandatory quarantine, are also part of the protection.

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary has said that countries in Europe are now moving away from self-quarantine rules.

He also said the system proposed here, where a passenger comes off a plane and may take public transport makes the quarantine ineffective.

His airline will be making journeys to Europe again from July 1.

He proposes wearing face masks to provides protection during a flight.

The new guidelines issued by the EU's air safety body state that anyone flying will have to follow a number of rules to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading via air travel.

They include passengers having to wear masks for the duration of their journey, saying their goodbyes outside the terminal, and interview booth assessments of people showing signs of Covid-19.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency said that in order to reduce the number of people using the on-board toilets, food and drink services should be reduced.

In addition, there should be no duty-free sales available on flights.

Holidays

For now, the advice to the public here is to avoid non-essential air travel, as Mr Harris reminded people yesterday.

As some European countries ease lockdown measures further, the opening up of entertainment and leisure facilities may provide a temptation to take a break abroad from July.

Spain is to set to welcome back visitors from July, and end the two-week quarantine policy.

Greece may lift its quarantine rule on June 15.

However, it is worth remembering that it may still be necessary to self-quarantine for two weeks after returning.

The mandatory locator form rule on arrival here is in effect until June 18.

Even taking measures such as physical distancing, wearing a face mask and washing hands does not fully eliminate risks.

If it's a long flight you are near strangers for a prolonged period.

There are other factors to take into account, such as a person's age and possible underlying illness.

You may have poor control over your surroundings abroad and find yourself in a hotel where precautions to reduce the spread of the virus are not up to standard.

Much will depend on how the virus impacts on Europe in the coming months and the experiences of countries which open up to visitors.

Experts say that the risk of getting the virus in a confined space like an aeroplane is governed by three factors: duration of exposure, proximity and how infected the person is.