The decision to ask schools, pubs and clubs to close is just the first in a series of changes that will have to be made as Ireland faces into its first week of major restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Cabinet committee on Covid-19 is meeting on Monday afternoon to discuss what instructions it will give to restaurants and cafés. The chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland Adrian Cummins has told The Irish Times that an instruction needs to come from Government today, ahead of St Patrick's Day tomorrow.
He said many people who now cannot go to the pub will go to restaurants instead, where social distancing guidelines cannot be adhered to.
“Social distancing is not working in our sector. We are ready to do whatever is required. Judging by the tone of Simon Coveney today, it looks to me like this is inevitable. But time is of essence. Tomorrow is St Patrick’s Day, we do not want people congregating in restaurants where the guidelines can’t be adhered to.”
Time is also of the essence in terms of support measures that will now be needed for the industry, he said.
Mr Cummins said three major things need to happen in the short term.
“The first is that the banks need to be told that all loans and personal guarantees need to be put into a moratorium for at least six months. That instruction needs to come from the Minister for Finance today.
“The second is that there is a deafening silence from landlords in relation to staff who have been laid off and what will happen to them in the weeks and months ahead. Thirdly, we need to look at recapitalising of the industry, and Revenue can do this. We have given millions of euro in VAT payments to Revenue over the last 12 months, and those payments should be used to recapitalise the food industry.”
The Government will be keen to stress that while any such instructions may be construed as a “lock-down”, the public can leave their houses to walk, enjoy outdoor spaces, get their groceries and go to the pharmacy as long as social distancing guidelines are taken seriously.
But the instructions to pubs, and potentially restaurants, are just that: instructions.
Mindful of this, the Government is looking at potentially giving itself more powers to enforce these extraordinary measures.
On Sunday evening, the Minister for Health Simon Harris confirmed the Government is considering activating a set of laws which previously have not been used.
Further regulations can be added to the 1948 infectious diseases regulations by the Minister for Health of the day, and these are contained in a “second schedule” which can be applied, if needed, to that legislation.
These provisions which can be activated in order to prevent the spread of infectious diseases include the following: the requiring of adults to remain in their homes or for parents to keep their children at home; requiring people to stay away from a specified place; restrictions on the holding of wakes and also precautions against the spread of infectious disease from vessels or aircraft coming into or leaving the State or from passengers or crews of such vessels or aircraft.
Leaders of the Opposition parties in the Dáil will be briefed today on the progress with new legislation to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, with more information likely to emerge on this after the Cabinet committee meeting.
In aviation, the coming period is likely to see severe restrictions on flights in and out of the country.
This morning, Ryanair said it expects to ground the majority of its aircraft fleet across Europe over the next seven to 10 days with a reduction of 80 per cent or more in flights in April and May.
The company pointed out that over the past seven days, Italy, Malta, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Greece, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Poland, Norway and Cyprus had all imposed flight bans of varying degrees, from all flights to/from the country, or banned flights to/from countries with high risk of Covid-19 infection.
The face of healthcare is also likely to look very different over the coming days, too, with more GPs moving to online consultations and consultations over the phone, especially in light of increased pressure on their services because of coronavirus testing.
The purpose and use of several buildings may change.
The Minister for Health Simon Harris said that as the HSE assesses its capacity to deal with an influx of seriously ill patients, offers have come in from hotels and other private healthcare facilities for the use of their space.
As ever, the message from the Government as we move into the next phase will be that while the health service can potentially save the lives of hundreds of sick people, the public can save the lives of thousands by adhering to instructions on gatherings, parties, respiratory etiquette and social distancing.