Health officials advising 'cautious approach' to reopening, Varadkar says

Pub owners are saying a Cabinet decision on reopening is 'make or break' for their businesses. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said the Government will be adopting a "cautious" approach to relaxing further Covid-19 restrictions over the next two weeks, which will be a "further blow" to some sectors that will not be allowed to reopen.

Mr Varadkar was speaking ahead of a Cabinet meeting to decide whether the country will proceed to phase four of the so-called roadmap to reopening society and business.

Pub owners are saying the decision is “make or break” for their businesses and many will not survive if they are prevented from reopening. Pubs without a licence to serve food have now been closed for more than 140 days.

The Cabinet will also discuss indoor and outdoor gatherings, and whether to remove Malta and Cyprus from the travel green list.

The Tánaiste said Ministers had received "very firm advice" from experts in the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) ahead of the meeting and that the country "can't risk going backwards or schools not reopening".

Speaking earlier on Tuesday, Mike Ryan, executive director at the World Health Organisation, suggested Ireland may need to reopen pubs on a county-by-county basis depending on local coronavirus threat levels.

Mr Ryan said the Cabinet faces a “very difficult decision”.

Suggesting a potential localised lockdown system, Mr Ryan said it “may be where there is localised community transmission, localised measures may have to be taken.”

“You can use a much more localised strategy – by county, by province, whatever it is in the Irish context – but to do that you need very localised data and a localised response capacity,” he told RTÉ radio.

Mr Ryan said such a system to contain the spread of Covid-19 would also require the ability for a rapid response to local outbreaks, with quick testing and investigation of clusters.

Dr Tomas Ryan, an associate professor of biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), said he does not believe the testing system in the Republic is fast enough to warrant further reopening.

He said: “We need to look from beginning to end, what is our testing capacity, what is our real testing speed at every stage.

“We need a public health campaign to get people to report their symptoms and get tested as soon as they experience them because we know that isn’t happening and is delaying everything.”

‘Low risk’

However, Prof Luke O'Neill, an immunologist from TCD, said small pubs in rural areas are “low-risk environments” for transmission of the virus.

“The publican can control people more because he or she knows all their locals. They will of course have to observe the guidelines – small numbers of people, social distancing, if possible an outdoor component, ventilation.”

“But the case to reopen rural pubs is quite strong,” he said.

Kerry TD Michael Healy Rae appealed to the Cabinet to “listen to the people of Ireland” and allow all pubs to reopen.

He said: “I’m asking them [Ministers] to take a deep breath when they’re going to the Cabinet meeting today. I’m asking them to use every brain cell that God gave them and I want them to listen to the people of Ireland.

“People of Ireland are now saying, allow our pubs to open and we will handle the rest ourselves after that.”

Marie Mellett, a pub owner from Swinford, Co Mayo, said pubs “can’t afford to be closed for any longer” and all should be allowed to open, regardless of whether they serve food or not.

“I’m afraid if we can’t open next Monday that could be the end of a lot of pubs in Ireland. We need to open and we need to get the last remaining weeks of summer,” she said.