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Ireland raises prospect of earlier return to foreign travel 

DUBLIN, May 21 (Reuters) - Ireland will adopt a COVID-19 certificate to help citizens travel more freely across the European Union “as early as possible” and not necessarily by late July as previously flagged, a senior minister said on Friday.

Ireland has the strictest travel curbs in the 27-nation bloc, advising citizens against non-essential travel, imposing fines on people travelling to airports to go on holiday and a two-week mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals from a number of countries.

The head of global industry group IATA, Irishman Willie Walsh, warned on Wednesday that Ireland’s air connectivity is likely to shrink by 30% and may need five years to recover from Europe’s most “repressive” travel restrictions.

While Irish ministers have said it will be late July or early August before they put the so-called EU’s so-called “green certificate” into operation, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said on Friday that it could be earlier.

“The finalised date for Ireland is being worked on and will be announced next week. The government’s view is that we want to participate in this as early as possible,” Donnelly told national broadcaster RTE.

Portugal, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, hopes to reach political agreement on the travel plans by the end of May to enable the certificate to be operational by June 21.

A COVID certificate would be handed out for free by health authorities in EU countries to people who received a vaccine, had a negative test or are immune, having recovered from COVID.

IATA’s Walsh was speaking a day after Ireland’s Aer Lingus, part of the International Airlines Group he headed until last year, closed its cabin crew base at one of the country’s largest airports and imposed cutbacks and layoffs across the company.

Ryanair, Ireland’s largest airline, has said it will give priority to other European markets in the coming months and base fewer planes in Ireland due to the restrictions. (Reporting by Padraic Halpin Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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