The Government has decided to delay moving to phase four of the roadmap to reopen the country at a meeting of the Cabinet on Wednesday evening.
The remainder of the country’s pubs will not be permitted to reopen until August 10th, following Cabinet’s decision to delay further easing of restrictions by three weeks, amid fears over the increasing number of coronavirus cases.
The country was due to move to the fourth and final phase of the roadmap to lift coronavirus lockdown restrictions on Monday, July 20th.
The wearing of face masks is also to be made mandatory in retail shops, and the planned further easing of limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings delayed.
Under phase four, all pubs and nightclubs would have been allowed to reopen. This has now been pushed back to August 10th.
Pubs that can operate as restaurants and serve a “substantial meal” have been permitted to resume trading since late June.
Gatherings of up to 100 people indoors, and 500 people outdoors would have been permitted under phase four, but will now remain at current levels of 50 people indoors, and 200 people outdoors.
The current advice against non-essential overseas travel is to remain in place
Following concern over the virus spreading in large house parties, visitors to private homes will now be limited to 10 people from no more than four different households, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said.
Speaking at a post-Cabinet press briefing, Mr Martin said he understood the decision to delay easing restrictions would be “disappointing” to many.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) was “worried about the trajectory” of the virus currently. If it continued to spread at the current rate it could jeopardise plans to reopen schools, he said.
The State’s acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn warned the pandemic “is not over” and globally was accelerating.
“It only needs the smallest window of opportunity to become a major problem again,” he said.
Dr Glynn said the R-number, which is the reproductive rate of the virus, had increased above 1 and was “somewhere in the range of 1.2 and 1.8.”
Public health officials had seen large clusters of the virus linked to gatherings of 40 or 50 people in homes, Dr Glynn said.
The R-rate measures the number of infections each new case causes; a measure above one is an indication that infections are on the rise.
The Government is on July 20th to publish a “green list” of countries where travel abroad will be permitted, and this will be reviewed every two weeks.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he recognised there had been “a lot of concern” about tourists coming into the country, and failing to self-isolate for two weeks.
Mr Donnelly said the number of confirmed coronavirus cases from overseas travellers was relatively small, and “there have been just four cases from American flights in six weeks,” he said.
The decision was “undoubtedly very very difficult news for publicans across the country,” Mr Donnelly added.
The main measures announced by Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Wednesday evening are:
- Face coverings must be worn in shops/staff must wear them too unless partition between them and the public; regulations for this and details of penalties will be formulated on this;
- Pubs and bars/nightclubs/hotel bars and casinos to remain closed until August 10th;
- Pubs serving food can remain open;
- It is now recommended social visits to people's homes to be limited to 10 people from no more than four other households;
- Current restrictions of 50 people at indoor gatherings and 200 people at outdoor gatherings is being extended to August 10th;
- Advice against non essential foreign travel continues; green list to be published on July 20th.
Regulations requiring people to wear face coverings on public transport came into force on Monday, with fines of up to €2,500, or six months’ imprisonment, for those who fail to comply.
The Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) described the postponement of the reopening of pubs as a “hammer blow”, saying these businesses now required to go 40 per cent of the year without trading.
It called for guidelines to immediately be published which would allow those pubs currently barred from reopening time to adequately prepare for 10th August.
“From the outset of this crisis, pubs have put public health considerations first,” said Donall O’Keeffe, chief executive of the LVA.
“We have repeatedly acknowledged the gravity of the Covid-19 crisis and as an industry we have respected the need to act for the wider good of Irish society during this pandemic. This is a crushing blow for the sector, but we will continue to respect the public health advice.
“This is a hammer blow for our industry. It does appear that pubs are being singled out. Pubs were first closed and last to reopen. No other part of the domestic economy is still shut. We have continually been placed in the last phase of the reopening roadmap.
“It has to be acknowledged that the pubs who are closed were not responsible for the growing levels of infection reported by NPHET over the last week. Yet it is those same pubs who are being asked to take a further financial hit.
“These pubs, who have done nothing wrong, who have acted responsibly and who have obediently followed the guidelines are now being asked to do more.”
Speaking earlier in the week, acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said NPHET was “concerned” over the recent increase in new cases.
Public health officials have also expressed significant concern around new clusters associated with private house parties, since people were permitted to have larger gatherings indoors.
Earlier on Wednesday, the union representing retail workers called for the introduction of compulsory face coverings for customers in shops and supermarkets.
The Mandate trade union said an agreed protocol drawn up in consultation with Government should be put in place for the mandatory wearing of face coverings.
Mandate general secretary John Douglas said it was “ imperative we act collectively to ascertain the exact high level of risk posed to shop workers in Ireland by the spread of coronavirus, as well as acting swiftly to ensure mandatory face covering measures are implemented and compliance ensured for the protection of shop workers health”.
He said “any agreed measures should look at the inclusion of exemptions for health reasons, non-requirement circumstances such as working behind screens and what, if any, punitive measures are to be applied to non-compliance”.
“We are very clear that workers must be free from forcing public compliance on the wearing of face coverings and that employers must put in place measures to protect staff against abusive behaviour in that regard.”
Mr Douglas said the wearing of face coverings was not a substitute for alcohol- based hand washing and the continuing enforcement of social distancing measures.
"Rather, the wearing of face masks in shops and supermarkets will be an added protective measure taken to ensure we can keep retail workers as safe as possible. Wearing face coverings in shops and supermarkets should be seen as a reasonable mitigation against the unprecedented risk posed by the Coronavirus to those brave front line workers."
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s minister for health is to recommend the mandatory wearing of face coverings in the region’s shops.
Robin Swann will table the recommendation to colleagues in the Stormont Executive urging them to approve the move. Additional reporting: PA