As the debate around “green lists” persists, we should all be asking ourselves what “essential” travel really means

Everyone deserves a break after many months of lockdown, but putting personal gain over societal good is problematic. And when a staycation that looks and feels as good as Ireland, is a holiday at home really so bad?


The week after Leo Varadkar announced the revised phase three of “Reopening Ireland,” The Irish Times and Irish Independent published vox pops from Dublin airport. International travel hadn’t suddenly been state-sanctioned, however some folks had decided that their holidays were “essential.”

One young lad heading to Amsterdam with his mates for the weekend – interviewed by both newspapers – drew ire, as did the family of four who were “pretty excited to get on a holiday” (12 days in Toulouse). We’ll never know if either party abided by the 14-day quarantine when they got home. But, as a rule-abiding immigrant, I couldn’t help but bristle: I’d made peace with not seeing my family in England this year than put them, myself and others at risk by making the journey.

So, on that self-sacrificing logic, why can’t others check their self-entitlement and forgo an overseas vacation in 2020?

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The Irish know all about immigrants. Its own diaspora approximates between three million and 70 million people, depending on who you ask, which makes for a plethora of scattered families – and a zillion broadband-busting video calls between parents, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters across the miles during lockdown.

Collectively, we can’t wait to see our families and closest friends. And yet we do wait, for the greater good

And then there are us immigrants: 12.7 per cent of Ireland’s population also living the long-distance lockdown dream, consoling ourselves in the pixelated faces of loved ones. Collectively, we can’t wait to see our families and closest friends. And yet we do wait, for the greater good.

Green for go?

This week the government published its divisive “green list” of 15 countries where the corona infection rate is on a par with our own, while maintaining “the safest thing to do is not travel. The pandemic is not over and the public health advice remains the same,” said a spokesman. Really this list is just an olive branch to the aviation and insurance industries, the state being seen to open up the country while absolving itself of any responsibility should imported cases result in community clusters (and subsequent claims). 

Furthermore, the list will change every 14 days, adjusting to current R-rates, which makes it very difficult for consumers to manage their trips as well as their own expectations. I know if I’d booked two weeks in Greece, I’d be fretting about whether it’ll be cancelled, placated with vouchers or how much more money I might lose on accommodation.   

All the while the government squabbles over airport tests potentially revealing false positive/negative tests – which they don’t seem to be worrying about when it comes to non-travel-related testing. So, which is it: all testing is a load of baloney or is the government reluctant to invest in a comprehensive airport screening programme for reasons that have not yet come to light?

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And that’s just the outbound anxiety. What if you’re lucky enough to get a flight, but your host country drops off the green list while you’re there, making getting home a nightmare compounded by the impracticalities of self-quarantine for 14 days afterwards?

Needs vs wants

At the time of writing the “safe” list includes Malta, Finland, Norway, Italy, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Slovakia, Greece, Greenland, Gibraltar, Monaco, San Marino and, best of all, Greenland, which makes me chuckle, as it couldn’t be any more incongruous for the average Irish holidaymaker planning a summer getaway. That said, if you are self-entitled enough to think that holidays are “essential” travel, then why not give the Arctic a whirl and give poor Italy a break while it mourns its 35,000+ dead and braces itself for a spike in imported cases?

Just because I want this doesn’t mean I need this, nor is it my right during, of all things, a global public health crisis

Many of us consider overseas travel a necessity rather than a luxury since the advent of low-cost flights. And while nothing gives me more selfish joy than the tingle of sun-kissed, saline skin after a dip in the Mediterranean Sea and the prospect of filling my face with tarte tatin at dinner later, just because I want this doesn’t mean I need this, nor is it my right during, of all things, a global public health crisis.

That Irish emigrants, and immigrants in Ireland, are sacrificing seeing their loved ones this season, surely others can postpone going to Costa del Somewhere until our R-rate is significantly suppressed. Build and they will come. Put more flights and ferries on and they will travel.

We must surely park the idea of overseas holidays once and for all, and, crucially, not resign ourselves to what’s on our doorstep, but embrace it

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On the one hand my heart wants flights to resume asap – as does my career, as the editor of Cara magazine, the inflight publication of Aer Lingus, which has been furloughed. But while infection rates climb as a result of restrictions being relaxed, we must surely park the idea of overseas holidays in 2020 once and for all, and, crucially, not resign ourselves to what’s on our doorstep, but embrace it.

Making memories

Many of us remember a time before flights were affordable, and being a kid in the back-seat of a steamed-up car beside a wild Atlantic lashed with rain; busy, unctuous fingers diving into bags of chips, the tang of malt vinegar hanging in damp, anticipation-heavy air. The stomach-growling bang of bacon cooking on a gas hob in a caravan in Wicklow.

Deckchairs, windbreakers, drippy 99s, crabs in buckets, castles in the sand. Real castles that mum and dad insisted you all visit but you only wanted to go to the amusement park and guzzle red lemonade. These become stuff of family legend and why generations follow in they same footsteps with their own kids, “boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Normal is now a foreign country that will take many, many years to re-inhabit (if at all)

We can’t create the past at the best of times. At the worst of times it’s absurd. Normal is now a foreign country that will take many, many years to re-inhabit (if at all) and, yes, it’s disappointing giving up on a hard-earned sunshine break after months of following the pandemic playbook. But disappointment is infinitely better than a parent, sibling or child being put on a ventilator as a result of your having had the craic on holiday. This remains the very real consequence of getting your tarte tatin and eating it while other countries don’t have their own “green lists” to abide by.

When I see my family, it will be when we’re unencumbered by social distancing, face masks and nebulous self-quarantine advice. Dystopian vibes at the airport – a mainstay for the foreseeable, we must assume – will be long forgotten as we finally give and receive hugs, and share crockery and cutlery with reckless abandon. It will be worth the excruciating wait knowing that no on was put at risk by my actions. 

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In the meantime, I can’t think of a better country for a staycation than in Ireland, its four-seasons-in-one-day weather and all. Now. Where’s my raincoat and sunscreen…

 


 

Read more: IMAGEWrites: the trend for slow, responsible travel is only set to accelerate

Read more: Prolong the lockdown tranquility with a Kenmare staycation

Read more: Five beautiful Irish Landmark Trust homes to stay in this summer

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