Pubs not serving food are to remain closed until September and restrictions on gatherings will remain, the Cabinet has decided in a toughening of Covid-19 restrictions.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that bars, nightclubs and casinos will remain closed. Speaking after the Cabinet meeting as he announced a further pause of the already postponed phase four, he said pubs serving food and restaurants will have to close at 11pm.
The restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings will also remain meaning that only 50 can congregate indoors and 200 outdoors. This will come as a disappointment for many sporting bodies who had hoped the restrictions would be eased on August 10th.
Mr Martin justified the decision not to increase the number of people allowed at outdoor events from 200 to 500, he said that a lot of that related to people travelling to and from events.
Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said there was concern about people congregating before and after going to stadiums. He said there were multiple instances of people sharing transport, for example.
Mr Martin said the decision would be reviewed in three weeks. “I know this will come as a blow to pub owners and I want them to know I have sympathy for their plight,” he said.
“We are doing what we are doing to save lives,” he said.
He has said he wished he could share good news but he couldn’t. He said the 14 day incidence per 100,000 had tripled over the past month.
“Given these figures and the international trend, this is what we recommend.”
He also confirmed that face coverings would be mandatory in shops from August 10th.
Mr Martin said five countries and territories had been removed from the green list of countries. They are: Monaco, San Marino, Gibraltar, Malta and Cyprus. He said no country had been added.
That means only 10 countries and territories remain on the safe list of green countries. “We know how deadly this disease is and we have seen the human cost. The only way we can do this is work together and follow the advice,” he said.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said we had lost some ground in our battle with coronavirus. “The truth is the pandemic is blazing around the world. In fact it is worse than ever,” he said.
“Even in Europe the number of new cases is rising again,” he said though he said it was largely under control in the EU.
The delay will come as a huge blow to the licensed trade, where pubs which do not serve food have been closed since March.
The Cabinet has taken the decision after further increases in cases in Ireland in recent weeks. On Tuesday NPHET reported a further 45 confirmed cases.
Increase in cases
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the average number of cases had increased in 14 of the 15 green list territories and countries over the past two weeks.
He said Ireland had moved from 20 new cases per day to 53 new cases per day. Two weeks ago there were 120 new cases, last week we had 284.
Mr Donnelly said some of this was down to clusters in food processing and direct provision.
“NPHET’s view is the situation is ‘finely balanced’ and it would not take much for these cases and new clusters to spill into community transmission.
“Because of this we are not moving to phase four,” he said.
He said the passenger locator forms for arriving passengers at ports would be moved online. “We will be increasing public health presence at airports,” he added.
The mandatory wearing of face masks in all retail shops will also be mandatory from August 10th. Dr Glynn said he wanted to urge every person to take individual responsibility.
Pointing to the fact that many of the new cases were being diagnosed in people under 45 years of age, he said more efforts would have to be made to reach out to younger people.
He said there was significant testing capacity in the country and urged anyone who thought they had symptoms of Covid-19 to contact their GP and get a test.
Mr Martin defended the decision to delay the reopening of pubs by saying that internationally the reopening of pubs and nightclubs had led to an increase in numbers and “there was a strong correlation and linkage between them”.
The earliest pubs will reopen now will be on September 1st.
He said that indoor and congregated settings were places where the virus spread rapidly.
“We do acknowledge there are particularly difficulties for pub owners and rural pub owners.”
He said Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe would examine that in the coming weeks.
Asked if the Cabinet had considered opening pubs in counties where the incidence rate of Covid-19 was low, he said it was not easy to do that.
“It is not that easy to say certain counties, one could make a differentiation allowing one public or another,” he said.
It would require sophisticated localised data.
Asked about the prevalence of house parties, he rejected a link between that phenomenon and closed pubs.
“On house parties, we would urge people to curtail house parties in accordance with the guidelines. There is no evidence of a correlation between house parties and the fact that pubs remain closed,” he argued.
“There is no evidence that if you open pubs, house parties will stop.”