Irish pubs may reopen in August if they can enforce social distancing

Under the existing plan, published last Friday, pubs are not due to reopen until August 10th.  Photograph: Eric Luke

The Irish writer James Joyce once wrote that his mouth was “blue mouldy” for want of a pint of stout.

Going by that statement, there must be a nation of Guinness (or Beamish) drinkers out there gasping for pint.

It will come as good news to them then that Irish pubs could be allowed to open earlier than the August 10th deadline in the Government’s Covid-19 plan.

But only if publicans demonstrate that they can enforce rigid social distancing measures, industry representatives are likely to be told this week.

As business groups begin to work out what the proposals to ease Covid-19 restrictions over the summer will mean for them, senior Government figures have indicated that they are prepared to amend the Reopening Ireland plan if the decline in the spread of the virus continues, and businesses show how they can enforce social distancing.

The current restrictions on social and economic life will be eased in stages from May 18th but from Tuesday two changes take effect. The limit for exercising from people’s homes is being extended from 2km to 5km, and the recommendation that over-70s “cocoon” at all times is being adjusted to allow for outings with appropriate social distancing. 

Under the existing plan, published last Friday, pubs are not due to reopen until August, though cafes and restaurants will be allowed to reopen from the end of June.

Sources familiar with discussions in Government say that treating pubs differently from cafes and restaurants may not be feasible if they can demonstrate how they will enforce social distancing.

A taste of what’s missing during the lockdown in Ireland. Pictures by Bill Heaney

“Packed pubs can’t come back – but table service with social distancing could,” said one person involved in the discussions.

Publicans’ representatives are due to meet with Government this week to discuss the issue, and on Monday the publicans published proposals which would allow them to open earlier than August.

In a sign of creeping frustration with the lockdown, figures obtained by The Irish Times show road traffic increased more than a third over the weekend compared to the Easter bank holiday.

There is pressure from some Ministers to accelerate the reopening plan, although Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Minister for Health Simon Harris are cautious about going beyond the advice by public health officials.

All say that the phased reopening of commercial and social life will only proceed if the suppression of the virus continues.

If you are proposing to go to Ireland for holidays or to do business or visit relatives, The Irish Times also understands that Ministers have been discussing new travel restrictions for people coming into Ireland once the reopening begins here and in other countries.

Officials from the departments of health, transport and justice, as well as from the Attorney General’s office, are understood to be consulting on options.

Officials monitor the numbers of travellers coming into the country every day and their reasons for making the journey to Ireland. The numbers are currently extremely low. However, once countries begin to reopen, the numbers are expected to grow quickly and there is concern that incoming travellers could carry the virus into the community.

A further 16 people diagnosed with Covid-19 have died in the Republic, health officials disclosed on Monday, bringing to 1,319 the total number of deaths associated with the disease.

Six more coronavirus-related deaths were recorded in Northern Ireland, bringing the total number of hospital fatalities in the North to 387.

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