Ireland is to double to 10 days its quarantine period for travellers from the UK who are not fully vaccinated, joining a growing list of countries imposing stricter travel rules on British arrivals due to concerns over the rapid spread of the Delta variant.
The announcement came after Boris Johnson on Monday delayed by a month the final stage of England’s exit from lockdown amid accusations the government should have acted faster by placing India, where the variant was first detected, on its red restricted-travel list before 23 April.
Neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh had been added to the UK’s red list on 9 April, with India following a fortnight later, four days after a visit to the country during which Johnson hoped to announce a new trade deal was called off.
The Delta variant accounts for 90% of new UK cases and critics have argued that since half of early infections involved international travel, a ban on all arrivals except UK citizens and residents should, as some argued at the time, have been imposed earlier.
In fact, Britain was one of the first major western countries to severely restrict travel from India over Delta variant concerns. The French government announced a mandatory 10-day quarantine and test for all arrivals from India on 22 April, with Germany following suit four days later.
Berlin designated India as a “virus variant area with a significantly elevated risk of infection”, in effect barring entry to the country, even with a valid visa, for almost everyone – except German nationals – who visited India during the last 10 days.
Italy’s ban came on 25 April, prohibiting entry for travellers who have been in India in the past 14 days. Like many other EU states, exemptions are essentially available only to nationals, residents and to those with an urgent humanitarian reason – such as a close family bereavement – to travel.
The US did not tighten its restrictions until 4 May, after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) placed India at the highest level on its risk scale, warning that even vaccinated travellers may get and spread variants.
Australia at first banned even its own citizens from returning from India on 27 April, with the prime minister, Scott Morrison, warning anyone who tried risked up to five years in jail and a $50,000 fine, but backed down a fortnight later in the face of public outcry.
However, although the UK acted at about the same time as other countries, the volume of traffic between Britain and its former colony is generally higher than between India and most EU member states, potentially justifying earlier action.
In addition, most EU states earlier this year denied entry to travellers from almost all non-EU countries, with the exception of their own nationals and residents and people with proof of “an imperative personal or family reason”, an emergency medical appointment or a professional trip that could not be postponed.
According to the Civil Aviation Authority, about 50,000 people travelled between India and the UK in February, nearly 900 a day in each direction. On 13 May, Public Health England found nearly half of Delta variant cases in England were travellers.
Ireland’s transport minister, Eamon Ryan, said Dublin’s decision “reflects concern about the Delta variant, and to try to hold back the development of that variant here as much as we can and give us time to get vaccines out to give us cover against it”.
The move follows France’s recent decision to allow travellers from the UK who are fully vaccinated to enter the country with a negative test, but demand that those who are not have an essential reason for travel and a negative test. They must also complete a seven-day quarantine.
Germany declared the UK a virus variant area of concern on 23 May, meaning only German citizens or residents and their immediate family, plus those with an urgent humanitarian reason, may enter the country from the UK.