Return of large Croke Park crowds could hinge on fan compliance with Covid rules

Failure to wear masks could hinder aim to have 40,000 spectators at All Ireland finals

Croke Park before the football final in 2018. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Croke Park before the football final in 2018. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Up to 40,000 fans are to be allowed to attend the All-Ireland finals in Croke Park in a further step towards easing Covid-19 restrictions.

The possibility remains that a sharp rise in case numbers or poor compliance with attendance guidelines by spectators could see the decision reversed. However, there is confidence in Government that the large gatherings will go ahead, bolstered by the rising level of vaccination among adults and the absence of infections linked to pilot matches held so far.

About 25,000 fans are also to be allowed to attend the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup qualifiers in the Aviva stadium in September under the plan announced by Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers on Friday.

He said the plan “is an important signal of how far we have come as a country”.

Alongside the mandatory wearing of face-coverings, fans will be expected to maintain social distancing as they enter and leave stadiums. Matchgoers must provide contact details when purchasing tickets and are encouraged to have the Covid tracker app for smartphones.

Croke Park stadium director Peter McKenna this week warned that a failure of spectators to wear masks – with compliance as low as 30 per cent at some games – could undermine efforts to secure higher attendances.

On Friday night, he welcomed the “extremely positive” decision to press ahead, saying the “challenge” now would be to prove fan compliance could be delivered.

He said it would be “unusual” at this point for the decision to increase attendance numbers to be reversed but “not unrealistic either” given the ongoing “precarious” public health situation.

There have been continuous reminders in stadium announcements and on screens and signage of the requirement to wear a face covering. Mr McKenna believes compliance would be helped now that the recent heatwave has abated and he predicted fans would respond well to the guidelines.

Hospital Report

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU
296 65

Arts an ‘afterthought’

A Government source confirmed that, as with any easing of Covid-19 restrictions the decision to increase numbers would be kept under review.

The crowd limit of 40,000 will be applied for the senior hurling and football finals next month as well as for the camogie and ladies’ football finals.

A working group involving the GAA, FAI and IRFU, along with Government and health officials, has been meeting weekly to review the pilot matches.

These meetings will continue in August including after the increased attendance of 24,000 that is being allowed at four All-Ireland semi-finals.

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne welcomed the opening-up of sporting events and indoor hospitality but expressed frustration that “theatre and arts venues continue to be an afterthought”.

He said these are “large controlled venues that can sit people apart at a distance and where audiences aren’t looking to talk, unlike in a pub or restaurant.

“Why is the same level of attention not being paid to how we can safely resume cultural activity as to other sectors?”

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) reported that there were 1,501 confirmed cases of Covid-19 notified on Friday, with 169 patients in hospital and 23 in intensive care units.

Separately, the HSE urged the public to be vigilant after reports of a text scam from criminals claiming to be offering a HSE vaccination appointment.

Travel warning

Meanwhile, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control warned against all but essential travel to much of Spain, including the holiday islands of Ibiza, Minorca and Palma.

It also warned about travel to most of the Netherlands, Cyprus, Corsica and the popular tourism spots of the south Greek Aegean islands due to a boom in Covid-19 cases.

Travel within the European Union has been facilitated by the Digital Covid Certificate for proving a person is fully vaccinated, has recently recovered from the virus or has had a negative pre-departure test.

The Government on Friday launched an online portal to help people access their certificates as members of the public continued to complain about long delays on helplines that were set up earlier this month.

The portal, covidcertificateportal.gov.ie, allows people to request changes to a certificate already received or to check the status of their certificate.

The latest figures show that 21,000 calls have been handled by agents out of just under 213,000 or slightly below 10 per cent.

Elsewhere, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said he does not approve of any “unilateral breaching” of Covid-19 regulations after Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran said he would continue to offer Communions and Confirmations.

Mr Martin said he wanted to know if it was “too much to ask” that the current regulations are adhered to while the country makes significant advances in the Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

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