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Government releases evidence it relied on to justify delaying the reopening of pubs

The VFI called for the evidence linking Covid-19 spikes to pubs reopening to be published.

VFI Chief Executive, Padraig Cribben says pubs owners over 66 get nothing from the State and are paying bills out of their pension.
VFI Chief Executive, Padraig Cribben says pubs owners over 66 get nothing from the State and are paying bills out of their pension.
Image: Shutterstock/Eddie Jordan Photos

Updated Aug 6th 2020, 10:56 PM

THE GOVERNMENT THIS evening released the evidence it relied on to justify delaying the reopening of pubs beyond 10 August. 

“The opening of pubs/bars represents a unique risk due to the consumption of alcohol and the challenge that represents when trying to encourage patrons to maintain social distancing and practice hand hygiene/respiratory etiquette,” the guidance says, citing a New York Times article from June.

The advice goes on to cite a number of cases in Spain, Australia, the United States, Canada and Korea where clusters emerged in bars. 

The evidence released this evening cites 12 news sources including RTÉ, BBC and the Guardian.

The Department of Health did not release the document earlier today when requested to by TheJournal.ie but this evening it said – following comments from the Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn at today’s briefing – the guidance would be released.

This evening, when asked by reporters why the evidence of the links between pubs and Covid was not being published, Dr Glynn said:

“There’s nothing magic about this evidence. If you Google ‘Covid… Pubs’ you’ll see this and what could easily happen. It’s happened all over the world: Aberdeen, various states in America, Sydney…”

Earlier today, publicans called on the government to publish the international evidence about the link between the spike in Covid-19 cases and pubs reopening.

The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland Chief Executive, Padraig Cribben told TheJournal.ie that publicans deserve to know what that evidence is, stating that all the scientific data that is being used as the basis to keep their businesses closed should be in the public domain.

“I would like to see the evidence from the other countries, we haven’t seen it,” he said.

Before Cabinet met on Tuesday, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) gave Cabinet advice, which included urging a “very cautious” approach to the reopening.

In a letter to Government on Tuesday, acting Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn said that “internationally, there have been a number of examples of outbreaks of Covid-19 in bars”.

When announcing that pubs would now not be reopening next week, Micheál Martin mentioned the international evidence in relation to Covid cases and pubs abroad as being one of the reasons for why pubs in Ireland should stay closed.

“It would be nice to know what the basis of the decisions are. I mean, we all read the various advice and cases that are out there, but maybe some people might have access to more than the rest of us and we’d like to see it on that basis,” said Cribben.

He said it is “very hard to question the advice, given that we don’t know the basis at which the advice was given. So you know, you can’t question logic if you don’t have the basis of that logic”.

“I think all of the advice should be put in the public domain right now,” added Cribben.

No clusters associated with pubs in Ireland

“One thing that we do know is that pubs are open over six weeks. There have been very few cases in pubs and certainly no clusters,” he said.

Publicans are being punished for spikes occurring in other sectors, said Cribben.

Three weeks ago, areas of concern were highlighted in Direct Provision centres and meat processing plants, he said.

“If you don’t take decisive action against where the issues are. You will be looking at it in three weeks time with the same or worse results, we said that three weeks ago… and unfortunately, we were proved correct because they did not think on the areas that were then highlighted as being problematic, i.e house parties and travel.

“And worst than that, they allowed a situation to develop in meat factories and direct provision centres… and I don’t see that they’ve done anything decisive to address them now either,” he said.

He added:

“We’ve been punished for the sins of others. We’re being punished for the sins of inaction by government. And we’re being used as a pawn in a game to send a message to to the general public. Now that didn’t work three weeks ago, and there’s no reason to believe it will work now.”

Earlier today, when asked why all the documented international evidence had not been published as a matter of transparency, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said a wide range of documentation related to NPHET has been published.

The last NPHET documentation uploaded on the website is in fact three weeks old, dating from 14 July.

The spokesperson said NPHET made its recommendations in relation to pubs and bars based on:

  • the current status of the COVID-19 disease in Ireland in recent weeks,
  • the significant risk of infection spread associated with social gatherings,
  • the evidence of outbreaks associated with pubs and bars in other countries, and
  • the current public health risk.

Pubs abroad

Other countries have already reopened bars, and even nightclubs.

Across Europe, several large clusters have been associated with bars and nightclubs, including some where dozens of people were infected.

This week, Aberdeen in Scotland was put under lockdown again after a cluster arose at a pub in the city centre. It should be noted, different countries are at different levels than Ireland when it comes to Covid-19 numbers.

Guidelines for pubs

TheJournal.ie understands that draft guidelines prepared by Fáilte Ireland for the planned reopening of pubs would have seen no limit on the length of time drinkers could spend in a pub.

Had the pubs been given the green light to reopen on Tuesday, customers would not have been required to prebook a time slot – however, these measures wold only be introduced “if physical distancing of two metres is strictly maintained”.

If a pub could not meet the social distancing rules, then the same rules that are already in place for restaurants and pubs that serve food would need to be adhered to. These include the 105 minutes time limit and the pre-booking of a table.

Cribben said publicans have not been given the guidelines, but said they are willing to make any recommendations work for the industry.

“This is the first time we’ve actually seen sight of methods and ideas on what should be in the guidelines. We may have issues with some of the points but, you know, if that’s what the world is going to be, that’s what the world is going to be, give us the guidelines and give us the opportunity to make them work,” he said.

Publicans are in “despair” over this weeks’s news that they will have to keep their doors shut for at least three weeks longer.

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Pensioners that own pubs

“We are we have been dealing with publicans who are actually absolutely in a state of despair for five months. Some of these people, they’re actually relying on their old age present because if you happen to be over the age of 66 you’re getting nothing. They are actually using their pension to pay the bills. This is not the household bills now, this is the business bills. That’s an incredible position to put anyone in that age in,” he said.

“The mental anguish that is out there at the moment is incredible,” added Cribben.

He called for the official guidelines to be given to publicans now, and for pubs to “given the opportunity to trade”. Engagement of a support package is needed now, not in two months time, stating that two months time is too late.

Ministers Pascal Donohoe and Michael McGrath are working on a support package for sectors such as hospitality.

Cribben said direct grants are needed now for businesses who are being forced to stay closed by the government.

Kerry TD Michael Healy Rae told TheJournal.ie this afternoon that a county-by-county reopening of pubs should be considered, something the World Health Organisation’s Mike Ryan also advocated for earlier this week. 

Healy Rae said there are no cases in Kerry and the current nationwide closure of pubs is not fair. 

“It is actual insanity,” he said, adding that the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael- Green Party government is “making the last government look good – that is some achievement”.


Source: The Explainer/SoundCloud

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