Ireland's policy of requesting those arriving into the country from abroad to self-isolate for two weeks needs to be relaxed, the organisation representing the tourism industry here has said.

The Irish Tourism Industry Confederation said it is important that Ireland is open for international business as soon as possible.

"We have to remember that the Irish tourism economy is actually made up of 75% international visitation," said Eoghan O'Mara Walsh, CEO of ITIC.

"So for as long as we have the 14-day quarantine period it is very difficult to see international tourism recover into the country. So we would be in favour of it being relaxed, subject to the public health issue being assuaged."

Mr O'Mara Walsh said the current policy requiring visitors from abroad to self-isolate for two weeks on arrival is due to finish in the middle of June and it is important that it does come to an end then.

He said other countries have begun relaxing their restrictions and Ireland should be in lock-step with that.

The tourism boss said Ireland is going to have to learn to live with Covid-19 and there is a lot that can be done - including testing, face masks and sanitisation - that should give a lot of reassurance to the Irish public and international visitors that Ireland is open for business.

Tourism is Ireland's largest indigenous industry he said, with 265,000 people employed in the sector prior to the pandemic.


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He said it has been hit hardest and quickest by Covid-19 and the recovery will be slow .

With 75% of the business coming from international visitors it is important Ireland is open for business, he said, particularly because regional parts of the country are hugely dependent on tourism.
 
He said we should be as creative and flexible as possible to allow international tourism to start again.

"The airlines are keen to get going, hotels are keen to reopen, restaurants and attractions are keen for business," he said.

 Earlier, the union which represents Irish pilots said a blanket 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving into Ireland would devastate the aviation industry.

The Irish Airline Pilots' Association  said the approach discriminates against countries that have minimised the effect of Covid-19.

Captain Evan Cullen, President of IALPA, said that applying a blanket quarantine across all visitors to Ireland does not make scientific sense or have basis in fact.

He said that comparing a passenger from Frankfurt to one from Madrid is not logical and called for a more science-based specific approach to how passengers arriving in the country are dealt with.

Captain Cullen said that the EU publishes a document every few days on risks from airports in different areas of the EU and said that all stakeholders should examine this information and make up criteria and protocols to deal with areas on different risk levels.

He told RTÉ's Today with Sarah McInerney that anyone who tried to travel into Ireland from an at-risk area, via a low risk region, would be flagged in the system.

He said there is no evidence to date that the Irish government is plugged into the European Aviation Safety Agency, which is a competent authority on this matter. 

Captain Cullen said the aviation industry is a resilient one and he believes there will have to be fundamental changes to the way passengers are dealt with in airports.

Professor Sam McConkey, from the Department of International Health and Tropical Medicine at RCSI, said the Irish outbreak of Covid-19 was "seeded from Northern Italy and the UK" and we should have treated travellers from these areas in a different way. 

He said the idea of having free and open borders for people to enter Ireland from high-risk epidemic areas is a bad idea. 

Professor McConkey said people should be spaced out on the airplane and some sort of social distancing should be introduced on flights.

He said as the number of Covid cases here continues to drop it becomes more important to prevent reintroduction of the disease.