THE IRISH Government are facing growing calls to suspend passenger flights from the United States as the number of travel-related coronavirus cases continue to rise.
In the past two weeks, 12% of all new cases identified in Ireland are related to international travel, a significant jump from the 2% seen throughout the early stages of the pandemic.
Daily flights from the USA, the epicentre of the coronavirus emergency, are arriving in Dublin, some from the worst-hit states including Florida and Texas, and there are fears the unreliable quarantine measures could result in a second wave hitting the country.
Speaking yesterday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said between 200 - 250 people a day are arriving into Ireland from America, a fraction of what would usually be seen in the tourist season but which still amounts to up to 7,500 people per month.
Many of these are Irish people returning home, Mr Coveney said, and a flight from Dallas earlier this week which caused major concern on social media had only sixteen passengers.
Opposition parties, including Labour and Sinn Féin, have called for more severe restrictions on passengers entering Ireland from abroad, and have put pressure on thegovernent to publish a 'red list' of countries where the virus is prevalent.
Countries on the 'red list'-- which would include the United States-- would be barred from entering Ireland until their coronavirus numbers are down.
Labour party spokesman for transport, Duncan Smith, said flights from America and other hotspots should be suspended until mandatory Covid-19 tests could be carried out on passengers entering through airports.
"There is huge public concern at the arrival into Ireland of visitors from the United States, and the total lack of enforcement of the 14 day mandatory quarantine period," Mr Smith said.
"The current rules are unworkable and unenforceable, and the public are rightly upset about this."
"The pandemic is out of control in large parts of the United States, and all our hard work to protect our most vulnerable is now at risk if visitors from there to Ireland don’t follow the recommended 14 day quarantine."
Sinn Féin spokesperson for transport Darren O'Rourke condemned the Government's "lack of clarity and policy coherence in relation to checks and controls at ports and airports" and reiterated the call for a 'red list' of countries where the virus is prevalent.
Co-leader of the Social Democrats, Róisín Shortall, said the current measure of having passengers fill out a form stating where they will be self-isolating for two weeks was "tokenistic" and "unenforcable" as checks are often not carried out.
She suggested a mandatory quarantine for incoming passengers or two coronavirus tests, both of which must return negative, before people are allowed to mix with the community.
Minister Coveney says that while there is no plan to suspend flights as of yet, there will be stricter guidelines upon entering the country, and anyone found to be giving false information on their passenger locator form could face a fine or prison sentence.
"If you’re lying to us, you’re breaking the law, and that’s a very clear message that comes with the legislation that underpins the passenger locator form and the obligations that come with it."