HEALTH MINISTER STEPHEN Donnelly said a decision to further delay the reopening of pubs by at least another three weeks was based on “international evidence” that indicated the reopening would lead to a rise in Covid-19 cases.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin last night announced that pubs will not reopen on Monday as planned, despite having already been pushed back from an initial reopening date of 20 July.
The decision has prompted fierce criticism from the industry, which employs over 30,000 people, with particular concern that a further delay may well be the nail in the coffin for some rural, family-run pubs.
“This is Groundhog Day for the trade as twice now the reopening of pubs has been postponed,” said VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben immediately after the announcement last night.
The Taoiseach, when pressed, also suggested there was no guarantee pubs could reopen before the end of the year.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1′s Morning Ireland programme this morning, the health minister insisted there is international evidence that a rise in cases in other countries is linked with the reopening of pubs.
“NPHET is making its decisions, or providing its advice, rather, based on evidence,” Donnelly said.
“The evidence shows that when countries open up the pubs, not the restaurants – when they open up the restaurants, the evidence shows the number of new cases does not go up associated with the restaurants – the international evidence shows that when you open up the pubs… the number of cases does go up.”
The Wicklow TD said he was sympathetic to the views of publicans who say their pub is their livelihood and has been non-existent for almost half of the year now.
“The focus is on keeping people in Ireland safe, the focus is on suppressing the virus. The focus is on getting the schools open and protecting our economy. And I hear [publicans] frustration and anger, and I understand [publicans] frustration and anger.
“What we’re doing is we’re following public health advice. My hope was that I would be sitting here [...] this morning saying the pubs could reopen, that weddings could be bigger, that sports clubs could have more people at them. That’s what we all want.
“Unfortunately, the virus is spreading at a very fast rate around the world.”
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Prior to the Cabinet meeting yesterday, it was expected that the number of people who can gather at outdoor events might be increased to allow sports fans attend outdoor matches. This was also delayed on the advice of NPHET.
“NPHET’s position on this is that they don’t see much of an issue during the game because the GAA and various other sporting organisations have some large stadiums. Their view is of course you could have more than 200 people at an outdoor event properly spaced.
“Their concern is what happens before the match and after the match. Some of the clusters that we’re looking at at the moment, the belief is that some of the transmission may have been in cars on the way to work, on the way from work.
“So the public health experts, their view is the match itself is not a problem but people congregating beforehand. People share cars and then congregate afterwards, and that really is their concern.”