Revealed: the international evidence NPHET relied on to keep pubs closed

Public health team told of outbreaks in UK, Spain, USA and Canada after pubs reopened

The State's public health team was told of increases in Covid-19 outbreaks associated with the reopening of bars in Australia, the UK, Spain, the USA, Canada and Korea, it has been revealed.

The team has come under pressure to publish advice it was given before its decision to recommend that pubs within the State that do not serve food remain closed until at least the end of the month.

In a briefing given on international evidence around the reopening of bars given to the NPHET, and seen by The Irish Times, the NPHET was told reopening pubs and bars represented “a unique risk due to the consumption of alcohol and the challenge that represents when trying to encourage patrons to maintain social distancing and practise hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.”

The briefing goes through a number of locations and examples of increased Covid-19 cases linked to re-opened bars, including in Australia.


"Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, yesterday reported 14 new cases of Covid-19, with a growing cluster at a pub used by freight drivers travelling the country adding to fears of a second wave of the virus. The bulk of these community transmission cases were people who recently visited a pub in southwest Sydney, the Crossroads Hotel, taking the cluster to 13 in all."

In the UK, it was noted that at least four pubs in England that had reopened at the time the briefing paper was being drafted had been "forced to close again after customers or staff tested positive for Covid-19."

A bar setting, in reality, just doesn't work with a pandemic

In Spain, officials were told that the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia had imposed restrictions on about 70,000 people following a Covid-19 outbreak.

“People living in A Marina along Spain’s northern coast in the province of Lugo will not be able to leave the area from midnight until Friday, two days before regional elections in Galicia on July 12th.

Regional health minister Jesus Vazquez Almuina told a news conference the biggest outbreaks were linked to several bars in the area."

The document listed several examples of outbreaks in the United States.

In Texas, governor Greg Abbott allowed his stay at home order to expire on April 30th, the note says, with almost all businesses including bars and restaurants operating to at least 50 per cent capacity by early June.

“Last week, amid the surge, the governor shut down all bars and ordered restaurants to cut down capacity from 75 to 50 per cent.

“If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars,” Mr Abbott said to El Paso station KVIA-TV. A “bar setting, in reality, just doesn’t work with a pandemic”,” the briefing note says.

In Jacksonville Beach, Florida, "a group of 16 friends went to a pub to celebrate a birthday and within days all 16 tested positive for Covid-19. The Orlando Pride women's soccer team was forced to withdraw from the upcoming National Women's Soccer League tournament after six players and four staff members tested positive for Covid-19, reportedly after younger players visited bars and nightclubs in the area that had reopened."

The document says in Louisiana at least 100 people tested positive for the virus after visiting bars in the Tigerland district, a popular destination for Louisiana State University students.

And in Idaho "health officials shut down bars in Ada County after reporting clusters of infections among young adults who had visited several bars in downtown Boise. "

In Ingham County, Michigan the briefing note says health officials said a total of 185 coronavirus cases were tied outbreak at a bar.

“On June 23rd, officials said more than a dozen people who visited Harper’s Restaurant and Brew Pub between June 12-20th had tested positive for Covid-19. In just over two weeks, that number has ballooned by more than 180 confirmed cases. Of the 185 people who have tested positive, 143 of them visited Harper’s.”

The team was also told of an outbreak at a suburban Montreal pub. "Dr David Buckeridge, a McGill University epidemiologist, said bars should not have reopened.

“From an epidemiological perspective, there’s no question about it - I would not open bars,” he told the Montreal Gazette.”

There was also a cluster of new cluster of coronavirus cases linked to a Seoul party district area in Korea.

“Officials attributed the new cluster to at least one person who visited several clubs and bars in the popular nightlife district of Itaewon last week, potentially coming into contact with as many as 1,500 other partygoers.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times