Covid resurgence: Outdoor drinkers in groups to face €80 fines

Proposals to go before Cabinet as Nphet official warns of Christmas travel impact

Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn warns that Ireland could have a high incidence of Covid-19 cases by January if large numbers of people come home for Christmas. Video: Department of Health

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A ban on two or more people meeting outdoors to drink takeaway alcohol will be introduced under plans to be considered by the Cabinet today amid concern over street gatherings and a rise in Covid-19 cases in recent days.

Senior Government sources confirmed Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly would bring forward proposals to control on-street drinking.

It is understood the regulations will not prevent pubs from serving takeaway drinks, but will instead prevent people from gathering outdoors to drink together in groups of two or more.

The regulations, which were being drafted on Monday night, will make it an offence – punishable by an €80 fine – for two or more people to gather outdoors where one of them is drinking alcohol.

The measure is intended to target the individuals rather than the pubs, which will still be able to sell takeaway drinks for people to consume at home.

A source said it was intended to make it easier for the Garda to break up large groups of people drinking together outside.

It comes as a senior National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) official warns that Ireland could have “hundreds of thousands” of Covid-19 cases by January if large numbers of people come home for Christmas. *

Hospital Report

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Current efforts to reduce virus cases are also well off-track, assistant chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn has indicated, and may not be turned around by the end of Level-5 restrictions on December 1st.

Dr Glynn criticised “a selfish minority” of people breaking public health rules by drinking in large numbers on city streets.

With daily case numbers trending upwards again in recent days, Dr Glynn warned “We need to get to a much better place than this by the first of December.” Referring to the target of under a 100 cases a day by that date, he said: “we’re nowhere near that at the moment”.

Calling on people to avoid non-essential travel over Christmas, Dr Glynn said: “We don’t want asymptomatic people, who are feeling completely well, coming home to this country to meet loved ones, to interact with their extended families across generations; younger people, older people and people with medical conditions.

“We don’t want thousands of people doing that, resulting in hundreds of thousands of cases in January and deaths and morbidity and mortality following on in January and February.”

EU vaccine accord

The Cabinet will on Tuesday also discuss reaffirming Ireland’s commitment to be part of any EU programme to procure supplies of vaccines approved for human use.

Mr Donnelly will seek agreement to participate in the EU advance purchase agreement with Pfizer for its Covid-19 drug. If agreed, the State will be entitled to 1.11 per cent of the total EU consignment, or about 2.2 million doses.

The Cabinet will also discuss the student support package, which will see a payment of €250 to students for Covid-related assistance.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will brief the Cabinet on the developing Brexit omnibus Bill, while Minister for Culture Catherine Martin will bring forward her plan for a guaranteed income for artists.

Mr Donnelly is also expected to meet public health officials this week as work intensifies in Government to draw up a plan to exit the lockdown in two weeks’ time. Ministers are due to review the existing restrictions when they meet on Tuesday, four weeks in to the six-week lockdown, though there is no expectation of any easing of the regime before December 1st.

One senior Government figure said on Monday that he expected pubs to remain closed but restaurants to open, but also stressed no decisions had been taken at this stage.

* The Irish Times is satisfied that this quote is correct. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said Dr Glynn said "hundreds or thousands".

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