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Debunked: A letter stating that pubs will be shut until at least 1 September is a 'complete fabrication'

It’s a fake.

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A MESSAGE HAS been circulating around WhatsApp in the last 24 hours purporting to show a letter signed by Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan stating that all of Ireland’s pubs are to remain shut until 1 September at the earliest. 

The photograph shows a letter, which has a letterhead stating it is from the Office of the Taoiseach, and is signed at the bottom by Dr Tony Holohan – or so it claims. 

The full text of the message reads: 

“Dear Pub Owner,

Due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. the Irish Government, following the advice of the HSE and expert advisors has deemed it necessary to enforce strict lockdown procedures on the Irish population in order to slow the spread of the deadly virus. The current lockdown procedures will continue until 5 May and will then be reviewed further. The lockdown restrictions will be phased out in a number of steps over an extended period of time, with most essential businesses for restarting the economy being given priority, such as construction and manufacturing.

“The measures and their affects (sic) will be reviewed on a bi-weekly basis in order to prevent a second surge of the virus and with the best interests in the health and safety of the Irish people at the forefront. 

“We regret to inform you that Publican Houses (sic) and bars will not be allowed open by law until at least 1 September 2020. This will be monitored on an ongoing basis and you will receive notice of any changed (sic) to these restrictions if and when they happen. 

“Yours sincerely, Dr Tony Holohan.” 

This is just not true.

First of all, the letter has a number of sloppy mistakes, highlighted by each (sic) above. It also claims to be sent from the Office of the Taoiseach. Dr Tony Holohan is not the Taoiseach.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan also told a briefing this evening at the Department of Health that it was a fake.

“One of my children brought that to my attention today, I can absolutely assure you that that is a fake and I think you know that,” he said.  

In any case, a similar claim was debunked only yesterday. A WhatsApp message suggested the government has a detailed, though ‘tentative’, plan for reopening businesses and services in Ireland.

The list of dates includes those for opening small businesses, bars, tourism accommodation, international transit and sports events. 

Holohan was asked about that message at yesterday evening’s briefing. 

“It’s false,” he said. “No such list exists, that’s just not authentic and people should ignore it.”

TheJournal.ie also reached out to the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) in relation to the latest message. It said the letter is a “complete fabrication”. 

The statement reads: “The letter is a complete fabrication. It beggars belief that someone would take the time to forge such a letter. It plays on the anxiety of publicans who, understandably, are anxious for news about when they can reopen their businesses. Like most hoaxes, on first glance it may appear real – referring to the Office of the Taoiseach and Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan – but real news about when pubs can reopen will be disseminated through multiple channels and after consultation with vintners representative bodies such as ourselves.” 

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has also dismissed it as a hoax. 

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There is a lot of false news and scaremongering  being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not. 

STOP, THINK AND CHECK 

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie 

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

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