It is crucial people are responsible and do not “veer off course” when following public health guidelines as indoor dining in restaurants, cafes and gastropubs resumes on Friday, the Government has said.
Businesses should take the decision to close if they are concerned about Covid-19 safety, Elizabeth Canavan, assistant secretary general at the Department of the Taoiseach, told a press briefing on Friday.
“If you’re a business you know what to do and if you’re having difficulty controlling the situation, do the brave thing, look for help, close your business if congregation is getting too much,” she said.
Ms Canavan said there had been “anecdotal reports” of some pubs serving takeaway drinks deciding to shut due to concerns over numbers gathering outside.
An Garda Síochána would be conducting 100 checkpoints a day, with patrols in major cities and busy retail locations in the run-up to Christmas, she said.
The first weekend of the hospitality sector reopening would “set a marker” for behaviour over the Christmas period, so it was crucial people were responsible, she said.
“We don’t want to see small infractions being amplified in the media and then causing problems for the whole sector,” she said.
Earlier, the chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, Adrian Cummins, welcomed the Government's decision to allow businesses to reopen.
Each weekend in December restaurants can take up to 10 per cent of their annual business, an important cash flow that will sustain the business during January, Mr Cummins said.
While it would be difficult to quantify the amount to be generated this year because of Covid-19 restrictions, he said it was expected that this weekend €50 million will be earned by the industry which will mean returns to the exchequer for VAT and taxes.
“We want to thank the Government for putting their faith in us. We lobbied hard for this and now we need to ensure that everyone does the right thing,” he told Newstalk.
“Restaurants are regulated and safe. People will have an enjoyable and safe experience,” he said.
Bookings “are flowing in” and he advised the public to pre-book: “We’re ready to do business in a safe manner. We’re in this for the long haul.”
Safe as houses
Later on RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne, infectious diseases expert Dr Paddy Mallon said restaurants were safer than households as they were a more controlled environment.
However, he called on the public to still behave responsibly and to exercise personal responsibility. “All of us need to look at social distancing in any situation and if it is too risky, don’t do it.”
Save the hugs for your family for Christmas day, he advised: “Keep your distance from your friends, keep the number of contacts low.”
Dr Mallon also called on the public to continue to practice the four basics – wearing a mask, hand washing, social distancing and keeping the number of contacts low.
Public health officials have also warned the public to take care as society opened up for the festive period.
HSE chief Paul Reid said people were facing into the “highest risk” Christmas of their lives. As people meet in restaurants, their “guard can understandably drop, especially after a glass or two of wine”, he said.
“Or maybe as people leave each other and may not see each other again for Christmas, our natural inkling is to hug each other and wish each other happy Christmas, which we know in the current environment is an extreme risk.”
While encouraging people to enjoy the holidays, he urged them to “be on their highest level of guard” over the coming weeks.
Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday evening, public health experts said the level of infection in the State was “static” but with a persistently high incidence in older people.
Chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, said the recent lockdown would produce a low of around 250 cases a day.
“That underscores the importance of each one of us recognising what a potentially fragile situation we are in but that will not inevitably lead to some of the potential R number increases that we have modelled.”
He warned if large numbers over the next three weeks adopted “discretionary” socialising, such as going to restaurants, it could leave the health system in a “precarious” situation.
He said he did not want to have to recommend further restrictions in future.
Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the National Public Health Emergency Team’s modelling group, said the reproductive rate of coronavirus was 0.8 to 1 at present.
He said: “The more contacts, the higher the R number will go, the higher the number of cases we will be seeing in January.”
Prof Nolan said small increases in the R number to 1.6 could produce between 800 and 1,200 cases a day.
Dr Holohan said: “It is not inevitable. It is still within our grasp as a country to take the kind of measures that can help protect against that reality.”
He said the modelling was not scaremongering and these were not predictions.
“These are plausible. We are not applying an R number of four to the numbers, we are applying very small differences.” – Additional reporting: PA, Vivienne Clarke