Ireland's Prime Minister Micheal Martin arrives for the fourth day of the European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, July 20, 2020. Picture: STEPHANIE LECOCQ / REUTERS
Ireland's Prime Minister Micheal Martin arrives for the fourth day of the European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, July 20, 2020. Picture: STEPHANIE LECOCQ / REUTERS

Dublin — A barman in Kerry, southwest Ireland, rushed to find his boss earlier this month. We have trouble, Gerard Kennedy was told.

“He said ‘it’s an American’,” according to Kennedy, who runs the Moorings guest house and Bridge Bar. “It was like he had seen a crocodile. Normally, we love overseas visitors. But right now, people here are just nervous.”

The episode is a microcosm of the fear inspired by Americans travelling to Ireland, one of the few EU countries that currently allows US tourists. There has been no sign of an influx, but locals are still spooked by the prospect of a second wave of the coronavirus spurred by overseas visitors, especially from the country with the world’s worst outbreak.

In a taste of the cool reception that may await Americans when the rest of the EU reopens, bookings in Ireland have been cancelled and visitors turned away as locals question the rationale of the policy.

“Covid-19 is out of control in the US,” said Darren O’Rourke, transport spokesperson for Sinn Fein, Ireland’s main opposition party. “It is reckless that flights are permitted to land here with no additional checks or precautions.”

European outlier

Earlier in July, the EU extended a travel ban for US residents, deeming America’s pandemic response inadequate. While it wasn’t binding, most member states followed the advice. But Ireland stayed open. It did not make quarantine mandatory such as Slovenia or demand a negative Covid-19 test as Croatia did.

While visitors are told to restrict their movements for two weeks, there is no legal requirement to do so. Under pressure to justify the approach, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin told legislators this week that mandatory quarantine would be harsh and do little to control the spread of the virus, and the government is still discouraging non-essential travel to the country.

“Restricted movement is very severe,” he said. “It essentially means you can go to the shop.”

Irish arrivals from the US are down more than 95%. But the concern is that the Americans who do make it to the Emerald Isle are doing more than shopping and aren’t taking appropriate precautions.

Earlier this month, Janet Kavanagh cancelled a bicycle tour booked by two US visitors because they hadn’t quarantined.

“These tours are one-on-one,” said Kavanagh, who runs E-Whizz tours along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way trail. “I couldn’t put myself and my staff at risk.”

False alarm

The confusion around the rules frustrate many. Jack Teeling’s whiskey distillery in Dublin’s historic Liberties area has also turned away some overseas visitors because they hadn’t isolated themselves for two weeks.

“It goes against everything we try to stand for in terms of a warm, friendly experience,” said Teeling. “It strikes me as extremely damaging for our overall tourist reputation.”

Back at the Moorings — a popular stopping point for trips to see the jagged island of Skellig Michael, where part of the Star Wars series was filmed — Kennedy has taken great care to safely reopen. Barmen wear visors, contact details are taken, and tables are spaced out.

In the end, the American scare proved a false alarm. It wasn’t a tourist but one of the 10,000 US citizens who live in Ireland.

“It was funny,” said Kennedy, whose pub is near the jagged island of Skellig Michael. “But it just shows how nervous some are. Most of us are bit scared.”

Bloomberg

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