Q&A: Pubs, travel and weddings – the Cabinet decisions

Moving to Phase Four of reopening society deferred due to the trend in coronavirus cases

Closed pubs in Dublin’s Temple Bar. Publicans had hoped they would  be able to reopen on  August 10th. Photograph: Collins

Closed pubs in Dublin’s Temple Bar. Publicans had hoped they would be able to reopen on August 10th. Photograph: Collins

 

What did the Cabinet meet to decide?

Whether the State could move into Phase Four of the so-called roadmap for reopening society and business from next Monday, August 10th. Phase Four had been originally planned for July 20th, but was pushed back. The Cabinet once again based its decision strongly on the advice from NPHET.

What did it do?

Phase Four is off the agenda for now. The existing social restrictions broadly remain in place. Given the recent rise in daily case numbers, the Cabinet opted for caution, determined not to risk the reopening of schools.

The signs that caution would be the word of day were all there ahead of a press conference. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said shortly beforehand that NPHET was advising a “cautious approach”.

“We just can’t risk going backwards,” he said, and the meaning was clear.

So, does this mean no pubs for the rest of the summer?

Well, for another three weeks anyway. “I know that this will come as a blow to pub-owners, and I want them to know that I have enormous sympathy for their plight,” said Taoiseach Micheál Martin. “This virus is taking away their ability to earn a living. It is stopping them from providing a key service in the heart of many communities.”

He said that internationally the reopening of bars had led to an increase in infection rates.

Facing repeated questions, the Taoiseach said he could not guarantee that pubs would reopen this year. The objective is that they will, but it all depends on the spread of the virus.

However, the silver lining, if there is one, is that the Government is currently examining whether some specific sectors will require “additional supports”. That could mean pubs. Well, publicans will certainly hope so.

But wasn’t there some talk about allowing rural pubs to open?

There has been some debate about the community importance of the rural pub, particularly in counties where there has been very few cases of the virus. But even these pubs are considered a threat to public health.

The notion that they could be treated differently was dismissed by the Taoiseach and by the acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn.

“I think there is a misperception out there that the vast majority of cases to date had been in Dublin. Just about one in four cases in the past two weeks has been in Dublin,” Dr Glynn said, adding that there have been “significant numbers” in other counties.

And restaurants?

Well, they will have to close at 11pm because too many people were trying to stay in them all night. This, however, is not a curfew, said the Taoiseach.

Well, at least more people can gather in other places now, right?

Wrong. That was another element that had been due to change, but has also been put on hold. The current limit of 50 people indoors and 200 people outdoors will remain for now.

This is a big problem for wedding couples trying to decide how many people they can invite.

Outdoor settings are considered safe, but NPHET is concerned about the “coming and going” of crowds and the potential to congregate before and after events. So the 200 limit for them stays in place.

Any changes for those intending to travel abroad?

Yes, the so-called “green list” of countries deemed of less risk than others has changed. Cyprus, Malta, Gibraltar, Monaco and San Marino have been removed “because of deteriorating virus numbers”, said the Taoiseach.

So, what else did we learn?

Face coverings are to be made mandatory in shops and shopping centres from August 10th – not just on public transport, as is now the case. That will be a major step in the testing of people’s ability and will to wear masks – possibly the single biggest debating point about people’s behaviour during the pandemic. However, Mr Martin is confident: “When people are given a clear direction they follow it.”

Meanwhile, people in the direct provision system will now be treated the same as everyone else in terms of Covid-19 income supports.

So what now?

Stay the course. That is the message, but we are now really into a phase of testing the public’s resolve. The State is now in a precarious situation.

Ground has been lost, but it can be reclaimed quickly, said Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. “[We don’t want] to do anything to risk our schools’ reopening in a few weeks’ time or anything that might cause businesses or workplaces that have reopened to be forced to close again. We know how to suppress this virus. We just need to go back to basics.”