PUBLICANS and their customers, in rural areas especially, had been looking forward to getting their livelihoods back this week until the government deferred the implementation of phase four of the Roadmap for Re-opening Ireland until August 10th. Ironically, public house owners have become the fall guys for a slight resurgence of the coronavirus that seems to have been caused by the lack of proper social distancing at parties in private houses – many of which are taking place because the pubs are closed.
The majority of pubs have been closed since mid-March. Some of them had the civic-mindedness to close a few days before they were officially shut down, so it is even tougher on them not to be allowed re-open at a time when most other businesses are up and running and implementing the recommended public health safety protocols.
Granted, it will be difficult for some of the smaller pubs to implement the protocols and be viable at the same time, and there will be some among them who may opt not to re-open unless there is either a cure or a vaccine available for Covid-19, which could be quite a while away yet. Hopefully, those who are forced to choose this course will be allowed to retain their liquor licences.
The deferral of pub re-openings until at least August 10th is going to prove even more costly for those in tourist areas such as West Cork, because it means they will have missed out on the prime period of what is a short enough season at the best of times. There is, of course, also the fear that they will not be allowed open their doors if phase four is further stalled in a fortnight’s time.
Rural TDs, especially some of the independents, have been reflecting the disappointment of publicans over the deferral, with Michael Healy Rae saying there is ‘no logic or medical explanation’ for pushing back the re-opening of rural pubs when larger pubs serving food in Dublin are allowed to operate. Or, as his brother and fellow Kerry TD, Danny, colourfully put it, ‘Tis fairly foolish to think that the virus can know whether you’re eating with your pint or not.’
Cork South West TD Michael Collins made a valid point when he said it was a ‘disastrous decision’ for rural pubs to be placed in the same re-opening phase as nightclubs, pointing out that they are totally different businesses. Some publicans had been buying in stock and lining up staff to return to work this week when the unexpected announcement of the deferral was made last week.
The government, for its part, was conveniently able to deflect blame for such an unpopular decision on to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). In most facets of the lifting of restrictions, it has gone with NPHET’s advice – and rightly so – but the deferral of phase four is the first speed bump that has been encountered on the road to re-opening all of the economy and society. It was the first announcement in relation to the Roadmap made by the new government and only added to the rocky start for Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
However, he was strongly backed by his predecessor, and now Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, who seems to have more gravitas in Covid-related matters when he told the Dáil: ‘We are not saying they will open on August 10th. We are saying they will open no sooner than August 10th. And, it will depend on the numbers and on how the virus behaves between now and then.’
Certainly, the increase in the ‘R’ number – the average number of people an infected person passes Covid-19 on to after contracting the disease – has become worrying during phase three. When they started lifting the restrictions, it had been below 0.5 but it has been estimated to be as high as 1.8 in the past week and, while the number of deaths caused by the virus has been low of late, the incidence of new cases has increased, especially among younger people, some of whom think the pandemic is past tense and others who simply don’t care.
All of the new Covid-19 cases reported on a number of days in mid-July were people under 44 years of age. Dr Ronan Glynn, the acting chief medical officer, pointed out that 77% of the new infections had been detected in people under 25 years of age. That is quite worrying.
This week we saw the publication of the long-awaited Green List of countries that people can travel to from Ireland and not have to self-isolate or quarantine for 14 days when they get there and on their return home from these places. The list is small enough – and rightly so – with the United States and the United Kingdom excluded, although people can still come through Northern Ireland unfettered into the Republic.
What people need to bear in mind is that the Green List is to facilitate essential travel. Holidaying abroad, even in the countries on the list, in not recommended; ‘staycations’ in Ireland should be the priority for this year and visitors should remember that the same rules regarding social distancing, wearing of masks, etc still apply, home or away.