Ireland Has a New Coronavirus Fear: Americans Who Flout Quarantine

The Four Percent


Janet Cavanagh, whose electric bike tour company offers a guided glimpse of western Ireland’s windswept landscape, saw her business come to a swift halt — along with nearly everything else — as the coronavirus pandemic forced the country into lockdown.

She recently reopened her doors, eager to restart business and make up for lost time as restrictions eased.

But she and a number of other business owners say that Ireland faces a new and unexpected threat: Tourists, particularly American ones, who flout Ireland’s quarantine rule.

With the pandemic still raging unabated in much of the United States, unlike in Europe, Americans are among those most likely to be infected. They aren’t the only tourists ignoring the requirement that people arriving in Ireland isolate themselves for 14 days, but most of the public complaints involve Americans.

That has ignited a national conversation about whether the government, which does not monitor compliance with the isolation order or penalize violators, should start enforcing it.

Many people in Ireland say the government should be tougher about preventing travelers from bringing the virus into the country, but the government has tried to tamp down that concern. The Irish leader, or taoiseach, Micheal Martin, told Parliament on Tuesday that while there had been much conversation about American tourists, “the numbers are quite low coming in from the U.S.”

Simon Coveney, the foreign affairs minister, acknowledged on Monday that there was evidence of visitors who had ignored quarantine laws in the country. But he said just 200 to 250 people a day had arrived in Ireland from the United States, most of whom he described as “Irish people coming home.”

“We need to put this in perspective,” he said, but he added that “people should not be coming to Ireland if they can’t restrict their movement.”

The issue has created a painful paradox for suffering business owners who rely heavily on American customers but feel compelled to turn them away. Visitors from the United States are usually the largest source of tourism revenue on the island of Ireland — both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom — accounting for 28 percent of foreign spending in 2018, according to Tourism Ireland.

“The first thing I want to see is American guests return,” Mr. Haden said. “But not if it’s going to put the health and safety of our guests, our staff, the community under threat after the sacrifices we’ve made.”

Those sacrifices included a stringent, monthslong lockdown that drove down the rate of new infections from almost 1,000 a day in mid-April to just 20 per day. Overall, Ireland has had more than 25,000 confirmed cases and 1,746 deaths.

Ireland’s pubs, restaurants and hotels were finally allowed to reopen on June 29, but under tight regulations that require social distancing and limit the number of patrons at a given time. So just as people in Ireland have begun to move more freely, many of them fear losing the gains they have made.

JP McMahon, a well-known, Michelin-starred chef, wrote on Twitter on Saturday night that a group of people from Texas dined at one of his restaurants in Galway, and while he was unclear if they had undertaken a two-week quarantine, staff were “very uncomfortable.”

“This is not just an American problem,” he said in an interview. “We had Germans in today in our cafe who arrived yesterday, who felt that because their country had a low rate of infection it was OK.” He also worries that Irish people returning from abroad will neglect quarantine.

Mr. McMahon has taken matters into his own hands, saying on Sunday that all international visitors booking into his restaurants would be required to prove their entry date into the country.

At the height of the coronavirus crisis in Europe, Ireland, a European Union member, did not adopt the bloc’s blanket ban on nonessential travelers from outside it, or the kind of border controls erected by many European countries. Though most of the European Union has resumed allowing in some foreign visitors, it has continued to bar most people from the United States.

The Irish government merely advises against nonessential travel to the country, but does not prohibit it, a policy set to be reviewed on July 20.

Everyone arriving from abroad — visitors, residents and citizens alike — is told to quarantine for 14 days, and must complete a form stating where they will be staying during that time.

Ms. Cavanagh, who owns E-Whizz bikes in Clare, said in a typical year, around 90 percent of her business would come from the United States. But for now, she has put the thought of profit aside for the sake of safety, urging international travelers to self-isolate for the full two weeks.

“So unless you have that kind of time to play with, we’d rather you didn’t come because we don’t want you to be mixing around in the community,” she said.



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