Ryanair has cut its annual traffic forecast by around 5 million passengers, saying fresh lockdowns in Ireland and the UK targeting a highly contagious new variant of Covid-19 would leave the countries with "few, if any" flights. 

The airline also today harshly criticised public health measures, saying Irish travel curbs were "inexplicable and ineffective".

Ryanair called on Ireland and Britain to accelerate the pace of vaccine rollouts. 

Both governments have said the rapid spread of a new, more transmissible coronavirus variant forced strict curbs on travel and say they are distributing vaccines as fast as they receive them. 

The Irish and UK measures "will result in few, if any, flights being operated to/from Ireland or the UK from the end of Jan until such time as these draconian travel restrictions are removed," Ryanair said in a statement. 

The airline said it will significantly reduce its flight schedules from January 21 until the end of the current lockdown, it said. 

As a result, Ryanair said it had cut its traffic forecast for its financial year, which ends on March 31, from its current forecast of "below 35 million" to between 26 and 30 million passengers. 

"Ryanair does not expect these flight cuts and further traffic reductions will materially affect its net loss for the year to 31 March 2021 since many of these flights would have been loss making," the statement said. 

It added that air traffic in January would fall to under 1.25 million passengers, and that the new Covid-19 restrictions could cut February and March traffic to as little as 500,000 passengers each month.

The Government here said people should remain home except for essential journeys until at least the end of January, but Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said hospitality businesses needed to face the likelihood they would be closed until the end of March. 

The UK government also yesterday introduced legislation that would enable its current lockdown to remain in place until the end of March although Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he did not expect the full national lockdown to continue until then. 

Ryanair has criticised Ireland's travel curbs, which include the requirement of a Covid-19 test for people arriving from Britain but not from Northern Ireland.

The airline's chief executive, Eddie Wilson, said the focus now needs to be on vaccinations and he called on NPHET to start releasing daily numbers on vaccinations as well as Covid-19 cases. 

Eddie Wilson also criticised the rollout of vaccinations in Ireland, compared to other countries like Denmark. 

He said the vaccine programme needs to be ramped up and the people of Ireland need to be told when things can return to normal.

Ryanair shares were lower in Dublin trade today.