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NPHET concerns cast doubt over reopening of bars as publicans seek clarity

The VFI has said that pubs are in the dark on whether or not they will be able to reopen.

Image: Shutterstock/Master1305

PUBLICANS ARE CALLING for clarity on whether or not they will be able to reopen their doors from Monday, when Phase Four is set to commence. 

Yesterday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar indicated that pubs will indeed be given the green light to reopen on 20 July.

However, later yesterday, concern was expressed to the government by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) about the planned reopening.

It is understood that while there was no specific recommendation as to whether pubs should reopen or not, the team raised issues around the recent increase in case numbers, particularly in young people.

NPHET confirmed a further 32 cases of Covid-19 yesterday, bringing the total number of cases in Ireland to 25,670. On Monday, 11 new cases were confirmed. 17 were reported on Sunday and 23 on Saturday.

Phase Four of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions is due to kick in on Monday, subject to Cabinet approval this evening.

Speaking yesterday ahead of the emergence of NPHET’s concerns, a number of publicans told TheJournal.ie that they urgently needed clarity on the situation. 

While guidelines were issued for the reopening of restaurants and pubs serving food, some pub owners and managers more detail is needed on protocols for pubs that do not serve food.

The Chief Executive of the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI), Padraig Cribben, said that members are completely in the dark about guidelines, and whether they’ll be able to open at all.

“Public health has always been publicans’ number one concern but after remaining closed for close on four months – while watching other hospitality businesses open – the government’s treatment of our sector displays a complete lack of respect. We need an official statement about Monday’s reopening and we need it now,” said Cribben. 

Acting Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn said on Monday that guidance for the hospitality sector has already been released, and that changes to the current guidance are unlikely. 

“Clearly there may be some nuances in relation to the pubs specifically, but I would expect that the vast majority of the guidance and the measures that they’d been asked to put in place are already out there in the public domain through the guidance that’s been published with the hospitality sector.”

Reopening deadline

In Cork City’s Castle Inn, owner Michael O’Donovan is concerned about missing the deadline for ordering his stock. If a decision isn’t made today, he won’t be able to receive essential stock until next Thursday.

“We’re being treated as second-class business people,” said O’Donovan, who wants to see more clarity and a roadmap for how restrictions are going to change in the future. 

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Independent Clare TD Michael McNamara spoke about the preparations required for opening pubs, and how publicans need enough notice to ensure they can open.

“Many of these pubs are family-run businesses and the owners have to make arrangements for their families. They need to know in advance what is happening. We cannot tell them on Monday morning that they can open at 10am that day.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin addressed these concerns in the Dáil yesterday, telling TD’s that the issue would be examined by NPHET first, and that they would give their advice to the cabinet.

“That said, there are other issues arising in terms of the virus itself and its activity levels, and all of that has to be taken in the round. We will get the advice today and make a decision tomorrow [Wednesday],” said Martin. 

O’Donovan is also concerned about staff returning to work, and transitioning off the pandemic unemployment payment before he is able to open. As he is also currently accessing the payment, he won’t have a source of income to pay his staff until the pub is fully up and running again.

“It’s very frustrating and very stressful. We’re just waiting and waiting and waiting.”

In Donard, Wicklow, Paul Moynihan – of Moynihan’s Bar, and incoming President of the VFI – is concerned about getting his staff back to work. 

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According to Moynihan, his staff are “mad to get back to work”, but they still need clarity on whether they’ll be opening on Monday to ensure staff have enough notice to return to work and to be trained in new procedures.

“It’s a big step forward for staff, just as it’s a big step forward for pubs,” said Moynihan. 

Alongside this, Moynihan believes that there is an appetite among the public to get the pubs back up and running again. 

“Once all the pubs are open, there’ll be more room for everybody,” said Moynihan. 

For Eoghan Herity, of Herity’s Bar in Dromiskin in Louth, his biggest concern is how the public is going to react to the reopening of pubs and the changes that come alongside it.

Herity said he is particularly concerned about customer safety within his premises. 

The decision to move to Phase Four, which allows for pubs, casinos and other entertainment businesses to reopen, will be made by Cabinet this evening, following advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), said Leo Varadkar yesterday.

The Tánaiste – again, speaking before last night’s news about NPHET’s concerns – said the decision will give businesses the “best part of a few days” to prepare for reopening.

“I do hope it will be possible for them to reopen. I know there has been an uptick in the number of Covid cases in the last week or two but it is still in the teens or about 20 per day. We did think there would be a slight increase in cases as we eased restrictions. I don’t think the increase has been so enormous that at this stage it prevents us from moving to stage four.”

With reporting by Christina Finn and Daragh Brophy 

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