Leading article

Summer foreign travel unlikely

For our schools, next week marks the start of the Easter holiday, a time which, under normal circumstances, would see many people take trips and breaks in Ireland and beyond.

However, as we know all too well, there is nothing normal about our present circumstances. This will be the second Easter celebrated in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, meaning holidays and foreign travel are off the agenda.

Most people will have already reconciled themselves to this reality, unpalatable as it may be.

However, there will be disappointment that foreign travel also looks uncertain this summer.

Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said yesterday that it was "best not to plan too far ahead at this time", echoing earlier comments from health minister Robin Swann who said that overseas summer holidays are "very much" out.

At last night's Stormont Executive briefing, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill confirmed that Northern Ireland was adopting the British government's 'red list' of countries considered to be of high Covid risk.

International arrivals will be required to undertake "managed isolation", including quarantining in a hotel.

However, neither Mrs Foster nor Ms O'Neill were prepared to yet be as firm as Mr Swann and Dr McBride about the prospects of overseas travel this summer; Mrs Foster said it was "too soon" to rule it out.

Whether that position is sustainable in the coming months remains to be seen.

The central and unavoidable difficulty is that most other countries, including popular holiday destinations such as France, Spain and Turkey, have vaccination rates which lag far behind the north's at a time when fresh Covid-19 surges are being felt across Europe.

Public health officials fear that allowing large numbers of people to move around will encourage the spread of new variants of the virus, against which existing vaccines may be less effective.

All of this poses particular complications for cross-border travel and the potential for summer holidays in places like Donegal, Mayo and Kerry.

In common with other EU countries, the Republic has so far experienced a slower pace of vaccinations than Northern Ireland, with the consequences around Covid restrictions and infection rates that flow from that.

Stormont will set out its official policy on summer travel on April 12, when a UK-wide task force is due to report. This week's interventions indicate that Portstewart may be a more likely destination than Portugal.

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Leading article