Just ignore the green list, it's for the best 4 months ago

Just ignore the green list, it's for the best

Contrary to one of the first lessons you were taught as a child, green does not always mean go.

After much delay, it seems that Ireland will today publish its 'green list' of countries that it's safe to travel to, but that you still shouldn't travel to, even though they are as safe as Ireland (but not safe enough that you should actually go there).

It's a list of countries that you can travel to for essential reasons. Of course, you can also travel there for non-essential reasons. But you shouldn't. But you can. And it's safe to do so. But please don't.

Keeping the above in mind, it seems reasonable to conclude that things will be much more straightforward if we ignore the green list entirely.

The way the government has gone about this has already undermined its own public health advice for Covid-19 containment.

So much so that they're not even sure it's a good idea anymore. On Tuesday afternoon, hours before the Cabinet finalises and ratifies the list, a spokesperson for Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that Leo "believes strongly that it's wrong to send out mixed messages about international travel. The Tánaiste believes there should be a green list as was previously agreed by the Government."

Varadkar's position is "if the travel advice for countries on the green list isn't different to advice for other countries, then we would be better off not having a green list at all".

So... Wait. What? Varadkar believes there should be a green list, but not if the travel advice for the countries on the green list is the same as the advice for countries not on the green list, even though the travel advice, across the board, is no non-essential travel. Am I going insane?

Let me say, that if the Tánaiste believes it is unhelpful to send out mixed messages, then somebody probably should have told his spokesperson.

Similarly, it's possible that visitors from green-listed countries will be permitted to skip our mandatory 14-day isolation for tourists, which we can't enforce for anyone. Flights from the USA and UK will continue to land on Irish soil each day. The risk of such a set-up is open to debate; what is not up for debate is that a 'green list' doesn't do anything but confuse people.

A 'green list' is the biggest tease yet. It confers no real meaning and offers no real solution to any of the problems that we're having. All it does is tilt the perception back towards thinking travel is safe again. Encouraging people to pump money into our airlines and making it seem safer for tourists to come here.

Speaking at the weekend, Dr. Cillian De Gascún was clear on that: "There is a risk that [having a 'green list'] could lead to some confusion and leave people with mixed messages and we're hearing that now from some members of the general public.

"It would be nicer and clearer if there was just a straightforward message that people could just buy into." Think Teresa Mannion's wind-swept speech, but on a global scale.

De Gascún's expertise lies in medicine, rather than messaging, but he is dead right about this. His statement was also completely in step with what other NPHET figures like Dr. Ronan Glynn and Dr. Tony Holohan have been saying for months.

But there's a problem with the attitude of our medical professionals, totally out of their control. After nearly six months of lockdown, people are desperate to get out of Ireland, and our government wants to make it possible with just enough plausible deniability that they can say they didn't technically encourage it.

In the society we've made, almost nothing taps into the reward centre of your brain like travel does. You can't make up for it in your home like a pub, or a restaurant, or a cinema. Marketing has literally convinced us it's essential for our souls (and, scarily enough, maybe it is). People base their entire calendars, that is to say their lives, around the holidays they take.

For that reason, messing about travel guidelines seems like the cruellest cut.

People want to feel like we're returning to normal. That little by little, our old way of life is being restored, that bit by bit, new countries will be safe to visit as the weeks wear on.

It's an idealistic way of looking at a disease for which there is no cure and no vaccine, and which ebbs and flows in almost perfect tandem with the precautions we take.

Cases of Covid-19 fall, and they resurge the more we reopen. That is the new normal. We must be always on-guard against Covid-19, and always cognisant of the risks we take - whether that be going to an airport, taking a flight packed with people, or sight-seeing around Europe.

Only we can ensure that our behaviour remains sensible and safe. No green list can help us with that.