Covid-19: Publicans fear reopening delay in areas with more cases

Health officials and Ministers sound note of caution over infection rates in some regions

Cork publicans protest over pub closures outside Simon Coveney’s offices in Carrigaline, Co Cork. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Cork publicans protest over pub closures outside Simon Coveney’s offices in Carrigaline, Co Cork. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

 

The sharp increase of Covid-19 cases in a number of counties, particularly Dublin, could result in a regional, rather than nationwide, reopening of pubs, hospitality industry figures believe.

The Cabinet will discuss a memo on Tuesday outlining the State’s plans to deal with the pandemic in the medium term.

Among the more immediate steps proposed for September are for the reopening of pubs that don’t serve food, and increasing the number of spectators allowed at outdoor sports events.

However, the decision to reopen so-called “wet pubs” has already been delayed twice, and the Government decision will be influenced by the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team.

On Monday night, acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn sounded a note of caution in the light of high numbers being recorded in Dublin and Limerick.

Asked about the reopening of pubs, he said: “It is possible but we need to monitor the disease very closely.”

“There are particular concerns around a number of counties. If things stay stable, we can see … The next seven days in terms of people’s behaviour is really important.”

Those comments, and earlier remarks by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, were received by industry sources as a signal that if numbers failed to stabilise, there would not be a full reopening of wet pubs later this month.

Rather, the reopening date could be pushed back for a third time, or else a decision could be taken to reopen pubs only in regions where the numbers have stabilised. That could mean pubs in Dublin, and possibly Limerick, remaining shuttered.

Varadkar circumspect

The Taoiseach and Tánaiste had both indicated before the weekend that a September reopening for pubs was on the cards, but Mr Varadkar was more circumspect on Monday.

Asked whether he could guarantee that pubs would reopen in mid-September, he said he could not. “That is going to be a decision for Government acting on the advice of [the emergency team].

“What I’d like, though, this time is to give publicans a date that actually happens, because I know a lot of them feel they were brought to a point on two occasions where they thought the pubs were going to open in a few days.

“When we do give a date, that date should be the date it actually happens.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said on Monday she was in favour of pubs reopening as soon as possible. She said the experience of those pubs serving food was they were “very capable of sticking to very stringent regulation”.

On Tuesday, publicans from Tipperary will protest outside Leinster House about the continuing closure of pubs, as well as the new regulations. The Rural Independents Group has tabled a private members’ motion for the Dáil on Wednesday opposing new regulations requiring pubs keep receipts of food consumption for 28 days.

Cork protests

Publicans who held protests outside the offices of ministers Simon Coveney and Michael McGrath in Carrigaline, Co Cork, on Monday have vowed to roll out similar demonstrations nationwide if the Government fails to protect their livelihoods. 

Thirty publicans handed in letters to the two Ministers pleading for concrete opening plan dates to be put in place.

Michael O’Donovan, chairman of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland in Cork city, said pub owners needed certainty.  

“We are looking for a date that the pubs can open… There is a lot of stress at the moment, not knowing. Other protests will follow if we have to.”

Meanwhile, Noel Maguire, manager of Baker Street bar in Gurranabraher on the northside of Cork city, said some of the guidelines would be challenging.

“I know publicans that if they are not allowed use the counter, it is not worth opening. The 2m distancing is ‘stay as long as you want’. The 1m has you back to a time limit.

“When you have a small pub, you have regular customers. When they come in of the evening for their four or five pints you can’t be telling them to go home after two pints,” he said.