Failure by the Government to fully implement the EU traffic light system for international travel here could prevent up to 800,000 visits into Ireland over Christmas at a cost of €400m to the economy, according to tourism chiefs.

Last December saw 779,000 people arrive into the country for the weeks around the festive period, with 314,000 coming from the UK, 276,000 from Europe and 135,000 from the US or Canada.

"For as long as the quarantine system operates in Ireland there will be no return of family and friends next month and this will mean a lot of empty chairs and tables at Christmas dinners throughout the country," said Eoghan O'Mara Walsh, Chief Executive of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation.

"Testing simply has to replace quarantine and this will allow for international flights and ferries to resume safely".

The Government has signed up to the traffic light system, which will designate each country or region grey, green, amber or red, depending on the incidence of Covid-19 in that territory and the risk posed.

People travelling into Ireland from countries designated green will have no restrictions imposed upon them on arrival, but each member state must decide what restrictions will apply to those arriving from amber or red regions. 

The map will be updated weekly by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

However, so far the system has not been implemented fully here, with those arriving from red, orange or grey regions still being asked to restrict their movements for 14 days.

Mr O’Mara Walsh noted that other countries and cities had adopted testing in lieu of quarantine including Brussels, Frankfurt and just last weekend New York and urged the Irish Government to follow suit.

Airlines, including Aer Lingus and Ryanair, as well as Dublin and Cork airport operator daa, have also called for a similar implementation of the plan here.

Meanwhile, the CEO of the daa has said we can't simply 'shut the country down' and we need to learn to live with Covid-19. 

Dalton Philips called for clarity in the testing system that will allow people enter the country.

He pointed out that we are 53 days away from Christmas and people want to know if they can come home. 

Mr Philips said eleven EU countries have employed a strategy whereby people can take a voluntary Covid test before departure which in term negates the quarantine period.

He said the number of cases originating from travel is miniscule and pre-departure testing would help to slowly and safely re-open the economy.

A pre-departure test, he said, would ensure that 100% of those on the flight are Covid free.

He told Today with Claire Byrne that the gold standard is the PCR test which costs approximately €90 and this cost would be paid for by the consumer.

Dalton Philips said the Department of Health or the Department of Transport needs to sign off a planning permission waiver in order to establish a testing centre at Dublin Airport, otherwise the process could take months.

He said the daa was in 'a lot of dialogue' with the Departments of Health and Transport and communication channels are 'open and clear.'

He said that aviation is an important sector, employing over 140,000 people, but it is also a catlyst for the overall economy and we must balance public health with the economy. 

- additional reporting Kate Carolan