Pubs may be allowed to reopen before August 10th if they can enforce social distancing

Senior Government figures have indicated that they are prepared to amend the Reopening Ireland plan

Under the existing plan, published last Friday, pubs are not due to reopen until August 10th.  Photograph: Eric Luke

Under the existing plan, published last Friday, pubs are not due to reopen until August 10th. Photograph: Eric Luke

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Pubs could be allowed to open earlier than the August 10th deadline in the Government’s Covid-19 plan if they demonstrate that they can enforce rigid social distancing measures, industry representatives are likely to be told this week.

As business groups begin to work out what the proposals to ease Covid-19 restrictions over the summer will mean for them, senior Government figures have indicated that they are prepared to amend the Reopening Ireland plan if the decline in the spread of the virus continues, and businesses show how they can enforce social distancing.

The current restrictions on social and economic life will be eased in stages from May 18th but from Tuesday two changes take effect. The limit for exercising from people’s homes is being extended from 2km to 5km, and the recommendation that over-70s “cocoon” at all times is being adjusted to allow for outings with appropriate social distancing.

Under the existing plan, published last Friday, pubs are not due to reopen until August 10th, though cafes and restaurants will be allowed to reopen from the end of June.

Sources familiar with discussions in Government say that treating pubs differently from cafes and restaurants may not be feasible if they can demonstrate how they will enforce social distancing.

“Packed pubs can’t come back – but table service with social distancing could,” said one person involved in the discussions.

Publicans’ representatives are due to meet with Government this week to discuss the issue, and on Monday the publicans published proposals which would allow them to open earlier than August.

Increased traffic

In a sign of creeping frustration with the lockdown, figures obtained by The Irish Times show road traffic increased more than a third over the weekend compared to the Easter bank holiday.

There is pressure from some Ministers to accelerate the reopening plan, although Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Minister for Health Simon Harris are cautious about going beyond the advice by public health officials. All say that the phased reopening of commercial and social life will only proceed if the suppression of the virus continues.

The Irish Times also understands that Ministers have been discussing new travel restrictions for people coming into Ireland once the reopening begins here and in other countries. Officials from the departments of health, transport and justice, as well as from the Attorney General’s office, are understood to be consulting on options.

Officials monitor the numbers of travellers coming into the country every day and their reasons for making the journey to Ireland. The numbers are currently extremely low. However, once countries begin to reopen, the numbers are expected to grow quickly and there is concern that incoming travellers could carry the virus into the community.

Quarantine

The feasibility of enforcing a 14-day quarantine is likely to be discussed. At present, travellers are asked to confine themselves for 14 days but the only supervision is a follow-up phone call. One proposal likely to be discussed in the coming weeks is that travellers coming into Ireland should be required to stay in a facility – such as an airport hotel – for 14 days, or pending a negative test for the virus, though this is thought to be difficult to manage. However, senior sources said that there would be no restrictions on the Border with Northern Ireland.

A further 16 people diagnosed with Covid-19 have died in the Republic, health officials disclosed on Monday, bringing to 1,319 the total number of deaths associated with the disease.

Six more coronavirus-related deaths were recorded in Northern Ireland, bringing the total number of hospital fatalities in the North to 387.

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