Dublin Airport could introduce pre-flight Covid-19 tests “within days” if it gets the Government’s go-ahead, according to the chief executive of the State company responsible for the Republic’s biggest gateway.
Cork, Dublin and Shannon Airports want the Government to approve pre-departure Covid screening to break a deadlock that has stalled air travel and bring the Republic into line with measures being introduced elsewhere in the EU.
Dalton Philips, chief executive of DAA, responsible for Cork and Dublin, told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks, that the capital's airport could have a testing facility in days, but needs a Government order waiving the need to get planning permission.
“We could be up and running in a matter of days, but we need that planning,” he stressed.
Laws passed to help the State contain the pandemic allow any Government Minister to sign an order allowing Covid test centres to be set up at locations where they are needed without first having to get planning permission.
DAA confirmed earlier this month that it had already lined up suppliers willing to provide pre-flight tests at Dublin and Cork Airports.
Other EU countries are increasingly likely to demand that travellers arriving into their jurisdictions show they have tested negative for the virus.
However, Mr Philips warned that confusion surrounded the Government's approach to this, as its plans indicated that the Republic could accept negative pre-departure Covid tests for people arriving from Europe, while not approving the same system for Irish people.
Rapid tests use swabs to detect antigens, which trigger someone’s immune system when the virus infects them, rather than testing for the virus itself, which is slower and more expensive.
The Government has yet to back the use of antigen tests, despite a recommendation from the Health Information and Quality Authority that they be used here.
The EU’s proposed safe travel framework recommends that member states use tests for travellers from regions with higher Covid infection rates to allow them bypass quarantines and other restrictions.
However, the Government has yet to clarify how it will implement this. Currently, those arriving here from anywhere else in the EU are asked to self-isolate for 14 days.
Ivan Bassato, executive vice-president, airport management, Aeroporti di Roma, said the Italian capital's airports had been successfully using antigen tests since last month.
Mr Philips said DAA was likely to lose €200 million this year, while it was letting 750-800 workers go through voluntary redundancy. “We are back at 1995 levels, we have lost 25 years of traffic growth,” he warned.
Cork and Shannon Airports will get €10 million from the Government in 2021. Mary Considine, chief executive of State company Shannon Group, whose businesses include the airport, warned it would need more support. She also stressed that testing had to be the way forward for the industry.
Mr Philips said the Government needed to decide on whether it would require travellers to the Republic to take Covid tests before flying here or on arrival, and whether it would favour faster screening over slower, more expensive tests.