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'Avoid the places serving 30 pints with a basket of wings': Health experts' advice for Phase 3 socialising

Pubs were this week warned of the consequences of failing to follow the current guidance.

Image: Shutterstock

GARDAÍ HAVE WARNED this week that they will be inspecting pubs to ensure guidelines for re-opening are being followed, after some reports of pubs flouting the guidance.

Phase 3 of the government’s roadmap for easing restrictions allows for pubs to reopen if they essentially operate as restaurants.

Pubs are not expected to be allowed to re-open just to serve alcohol until Phase 4 from 20 July – and health officials have warned that this is not a given. They have asked members of the public to take personal responsibility and to choose establishments that appear to be following public health advice.

During the current phase pubs are expected to serve a ‘substantial meal’ that costs at least €9 to customers who are drinking alcohol. They should also ensure physical distancing of one metre between customers and ensure that customers only remain on the premises for a maximum of 105 minutes. 

There have been anecdotal reports of pubs allowing customers to stay for longer than this and of others that have not been requiring customers to order food.

A picture of a receipt from one pub has been circulating online, appearing to show an order for 31 pints and one meal. There is no date on the picture, but people sharing it are claiming it is from this week. 

When asked on Thursday evening about these examples, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said he was “aware of some of those situations”. 

He said there is an expectation that pubs that are open now as restaurants will “behave responsibly” in the same way that other businesses have as they re-opened. 

“I think for the most part, there’s been a commendable and responsible approach to applying public health advice and often a lot of initiative and innovation shown on the part of a lot of  retail establishments to protect their staff, and to protect their customers.

“And that’s what we expect to see across the pubs that are now open as restaurants. But I am aware of those stories, and we’re not naive.”

He said the National Public Health Emergency Team are not at a point now where they think it is “safe to say that pubs in general should re-open”.

Dr Holohan said it will be taken into account when the team’s advice is formulated in two weeks’ time, but there is “no given” that this advice will include the re-opening of pubs in general. 

He also said it is important for members of the public to make a judgement call themselves, with their understanding now of the nature of the disease and the risks associated. 

“To manage those risks, to be able to distinguish,  for yourself, between a place that looks safe – put your head in the door.

Does this look like the kind of place that’s following public health advice? 
It’s okay for me to go in? ‘This feels safe, I’m going to be looked after’, versus you put your head in the door and this looks like a crowded environment. The example given of 30 pints and a basket of chicken wings, that doesn’t sound like the kind of place that’s seeking to protect the health and wellbeing of its customers and staff and that’s the kind of place maybe you should stay away from.

House parties

NPHET has repeatedly expressed concern recently about the numbers of cases among young people and has warned against house parties in particular. Last month Dr Holohan said they were being organised “with abandon, it seems to me, as though we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic”.

“There’s a responsibility. But then there are also people who voluntarily attend them. And you can choose not to,” he said. 

Drinkaware, an awareness organisation funded by the alcohol industry and other companies, said it has been hearing about potential Longitude house parties taking place this weekend, as the music festival can not go ahead.

“We urge parents to stay vigilant and if they hear about an event, to caution against attending and share the information with other parents so they can make informed decisions,” the charity’s CEO Sheena Horgan said.

“Teenagers and younger people have experienced an unsettled time of late, particularly those in state exam years. This has led to a rise in stress and anxiety. At 82%, our data clearly tells us that 18-24-year-olds overwhelmingly associated drinking with being social. So, there is a concern that some may see easing restrictions as a time to gather among friends in large groups to reconnect and that alcohol misuse may occur.

“Young people have to date played their part in slowing the spread of Covid-19 in our communities by doing something that feels unusual and against natural instincts to socialise. But now really isn’t the time to reverse all the sacrifice made over the past three months.”

Your bubble

Dr Ronan Glynn, who is stepping into the role of Acting Chief Medical Officer now in Dr Holohan’s absence, also gave some advice this week in relation to socialising.

He said one way of reducing risk, as people start to meet each other in pubs and restaurants, is to meet the same group of people regularly, rather than different groups every so often. 

“We’ve never made a specific recommendation around a bubble, but what we have said is that people should keep their social network as small as possible,” he said. 

“The fewer people you meet, the fewer the chances you have of picking up this virus. Many people will have heard Dr [Catherine] Motherway early on in this pandemic discussing the fact that you simply don’t know when you meet someone whether they have the virus or not.

“And therefore, to a certain extent, as she said, you’ve got to treat them as a pariah, you’ve got to take care. Now, thankfully we’ve moved to position for now in Ireland where that’s no longer the case.”

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He said given the asymptomatic features associated with Covid-19 you could be in the company of somebody who feels perfectly well but who is in the process of transmitting the virus to you.

“One method of reducing that risk is to meet the same group of people on a regular basis, and try to keep the overall network that you engage with as small as possible, either in your personal life or occupationally,” he said. 

Consequences for pubs

In a joint statement this week, gardaí and the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA), both called on pubs to adhere to the guidelines. 

“We will seek to engage and encourage all businesses to follow the guidelines and to do the right thing,” Assistant Garda Commissioner Anne Marie Cagney said.

We will also be undertaking inspections to ensure pubs are respecting the guidelines. Our role is to maintain public order and if there are indications that any such problems are arising we will intervene. 

In a statement, An Garda Síochána said they were to begin conducting checks of licensed premises nationwide at 7pm yesterday. 

Deputy Commissioner, Policing and Security, John Twomey said, “When licenced premises were initially shut under the public health guidelines An Garda Síochána checked thousands of licensed premises to ensure they remained closed, which the vast, vast majority did.

“Our intention in this latest phase was to conduct a large number of spot-checks of licensed premises.

However, it now appears that just a few days after their introduction some licensed premises and their customers are ignoring the public health guidelines.

“By doing so, they are putting themselves and everyone they then come into contact with at risk of getting Covid-19. This is not acceptable and we are now expanding our planned checks.”

An Garda Síochána yesterday gave an operation order to all local Garda managers that licensed premises in their area operating at the moment are to be checked for adherence to the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A – Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (no 3) Regulations 2020. 

Where potential breaches of the Public Health Regulations are identified, and where a person does not come into compliance with the regulations, a file is submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions for a direction as to how to proceed, according to gardaí. 

In addition, under liquor licensing laws, a licensed premises requires a declaration of suitability from a member of An Garda Síochána for its liquor license to be renewed. 

Gardaí do not have any additional powers to close pubs not adhering to guidelines but could likely use public order legislation to ensure compliance with public health advice.

With reporting by Hayley Halpin 

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