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Taoiseach may seek special powers to close pubs and nightclubs over Covid-19

Images on social media showed busy pubs around the country last night despite recommendations against indoor gatherings.

Image: Shutterstock/fiphoto

Updated Mar 15th 2020, 1:22 PM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has indicated that he may seek to introduce new powers to prevent people from gathering in pubs and nightclubs as the Covid-19 outbreak continues.

The Government will meet with the industry bodies and public health experts this afternoon to discuss new guidelines on social distancing, after images on social media showed members of the public going to pubs and restaurants.

A further meeting of the Public Health Emergency Team will also take place tomorrow morning, followed by a meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 to discuss whether further government action is required, including changes to the law.

It comes after news emerged that a second person has died as a result of Covid-19 in Ireland, while yesterday saw the highest daily jump in the number of confirmed cases here, bringing the total number to 129. 

In a series of tweets this morning, the Taoiseach criticised those who gathered in pubs and nightclubs last night, saying that these did not adhere to guidelines he set out when announcing the closure of schools and colleges on Thursday.

“No indoor mass gatherings of more than 100 people applies to pubs & clubs,” Varadkar said, pointing to a recommendation he made for people to avoid indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.

“Have asked [the National Public Health Emergency Team] for further expert guidance on this. May seek enforcement powers from Dáil/Seanad.”

He also called on those who had been in pubs and nightclubs this weekend to avoid contact with older people, as doing so could make them “very sick”.

His comments follow those of Health Minister Simon Harris last night, which were also critical of those attending a packed pub in what appeared to be Dublin city centre.

Also last night, the Chief Medical officer at the Department of Health warned the public to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Dr Tony Holohan called on people to reduce their social activities - including in pubs and restaurants. Large crowds risk spreading the novel coronavirus further.

A number of pubs across the country did announce they would close their doors yesterday, as the country gets to grips with the rising number of confirmed cases here.

Speaking on This Week on RTÉ Radio 1, CEO of the Licenced Vintner’s Association Donal O’Keeffe joined calls for pubs across the country to be closed, saying it was an “obvious” move.

“We will absolutely follow the guidelines of the government… but those need to be radical and urgent,” he said.

He added that although the vast majority of pubs traded responsibly, a minority had disregarded guidelines and public health advice.

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Meanwhile, Chief Executive of the Vintner’s Federation of Ireland Padraig Cribben said that publicans had tried their best to implement social distancing guidelines but that the measures have proved “an impossible task” for many.

“While we fully support the government’s health guidelines our members do require urgent clarity about how to manage the current situation,” he said ahead of this afternoon’s meeting.

“We hope today will bring some certainty about the immediate future. Business supports are essential if the trade is to make a comeback.”

In Galway, Tom McDonagh, the Chairman of the local Vintners’ Federation, is urging “members to close all Galway city pubs today for the next two weeks”, acknowledging that social distancing was proving “extremely difficult” to achieve.

Other parts of the world have already taken more extreme measures to combat the virus, with Spain announcing a state of emergency yesterday evening and France closing bars and restaurants from midnight last night.

With reporting from Dominic McGrath

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