COVID-19: 350 Irish residents return home from Britain on mercy flights despite travel ban

·2-min read

For Michael Morrissey, a trip across the Irish Sea for the sad occasion of his sister's funeral became even more difficult when his flight home was cancelled.

On Sunday, the Irish government joined other EU nations in banning inward travel from Great Britain, amid widespread concern over the spread of the new coronavirus variant. It wrecked Christmas travel plans for many thousands of the almost 400,000-strong Irish expat community living in Britain.

However, two repatriation flights were laid on for around 350 Irish residents who, for a variety of reasons, had been in Britain when the ban was suddenly announced.

Mr Morrissey, from Kilmeaden in Co Waterford, spoke of his relief at getting home.

Better known as "MJ", he said: "The funeral was yesterday. I'd got a few hours' notice on Sunday evening that flights were cancelled. Thank God I was able to get on this flight, so just relieved to get home now."

A funeral also brought Sherron St Clair from Co Wicklow to England. Again, her family's grief was compounded by the abrupt cancellation of their travel plans.

"We'd originally booked our flight back for this evening, but then they cancelled it because of the COVID mutation, and we've just been trying to get home," the Greystones resident said.

"We're grieving, and we just need to be home."

Ms St Clair said she now intended to honour the Irish government's request for passengers from Great Britain to self-isolate for 14 days, adding: "We actually went over 14 days before the funeral. We've been taking it really seriously."

Saphron Werfelli, her mother Caroline and her young son Alex, were also on board Ryanair FR520 from Stansted and were picking their way through the nearly empty arrivals hall in Dublin's Terminal 1.

"There were tears of relief - we're all emotional now," Ms Werfelli said.

She told Sky News of the moment the family heard they had secured spots on the repatriation flight.

Alex said he was crying because he "really misses" his dad "a lot" and Ms Werfelli explained that he didn't think he would get home to see his dad for Christmas.

Another flight, operated by Aer Lingus, also touched down in Dublin last night after travelling from Heathrow.

The Irish government has said a limited number of repatriation flights will continue throughout the Great Britain travel ban, which it yesterday extended to 31 December despite a European Commission appeal for member states to abandon blanket bans.

Ms Werfelli said her family do not care about the politics.

"We're going to have to get tested and quarantined when we go back," she said.

Caroline interrupted her daughter: "But we're home. And that's all that matters."