Pub­li­cans might well need a stiff drink if Martin sticks to his ul­tra-cau­tious ap­proach

Irish Independent - - News | Coronaviru­s Emergency - Philip Ryan

TWO reg­u­lars in my lo­cal pub met each other in the toi­lets on Sun­day af­ter­noon. One of them com­plained about the ris­ing num­ber of new coro­n­avirus cases which he be­lieved will prob­a­bly lead to an­other lock­down.

“I’ll be back in the gaff drink­ing cans again,” he be­moaned.

He then left the bath­room with­out wash­ing his hands.

I can’t be sure how many pints he had but I’d haz­ard a guess and sug­gest he hadn’t just ar­rived.

Maybe he just for­got that one time to wash his hands or maybe he never does.

But the more likely sce­nario is that af­ter a few pints he got a bit sloppy and slipped into old habits. I’m only thank­ful peo­ple are not shak­ing hands any­more.

It is only one iso­lated ex­am­ple of a lack of hy­giene in a pub set­ting but it high­lights the be­havioural chal­lenges the pub­lic health ex­perts are con­cerned about if all pubs are al­lowed to re­open.

There has also been a rise in com­mu­nity trans­mis­sion, which are cases where it is dif­fi­cult to trace where the per­son got the virus.

Some­one might not be show­ing symp­toms, which is com­mon, and head down to their lo­cal pub. Then, af­ter a few pints, they drop their guard and for­get to fol­low the so­cial-dis­tanc­ing and hy­giene guide­lines. So al­low­ing thou­sands more pubs to open does pose a sig­nif­i­cant risk, es­pe­cially when the main fo­cus of the Govern­ment is to get chil­dren back into schools be­fore the end of the month.

On the other side of the ar­gu­ment are the 3,500 pub­li­cans and the huge fi­nan­cial dam­age that has been im­posed on them by the Covid-19 re­stric­tions. It is un­clear how they can bounce back if they can’t re­open soon.

Then there’s the 50,000 staff who don’t know when they will be work­ing again. They are be­ing forced to sit at home on the Pan­demic Un­em­ploy­ment Pay­ment be­cause they lost their jobs due to the Govern­ment’s coro­n­avirus rules.

And now they are be­ing told they should be out look­ing for new jobs even though they may have worked in the pub trade for years.

Fi­nally, there’s the cus­tomers, whose main so­cial out­let is go­ing for a few pints in the af­ter­noon with the same group of lads ev­ery day for as far back as they can re­mem­ber.

In Dublin it’s not so much of a prob­lem be­cause there’s plenty of pubs serv­ing food.

But out­side the cap­i­tal, es­pe­cially in rural ar­eas, pub­li­cans do not see it as fi­nan­cially vi­able to start serv­ing food, and oth­ers just can’t.

All of this will play into the de­ci­sion-mak­ing when the Cabi­net meets to­day.

Min­is­ters are ea­ger to al­low pubs to re­open but Taoiseach Micheál Martin has taken a very cau­tious ap­proach to fight­ing the virus and, with new cases ris­ing at a wor­ry­ing rate, he may not want to take a risk.

Min­is­ters will sug­gest al­low­ing pubs to open un­der strict rules, per­haps lim­it­ing the num­ber of peo­ple who can en­ter while im­pos­ing ear­lier clos­ing times.

Much will de­pend on the Na­tional Pub­lic Health Emer­gency Team’s ad­vice.

How­ever, the Govern­ment is se­ri­ously lack­ing in its com­mu­ni­ca­tions on the eas­ing of re­stric­tions.

The Li­censed Vint­ners As­so­ci­a­tion say they are be­ing “left in limbo” due to an in­for­ma­tion vac­uum and are be­ing used as a “mes­sag­ing tool” to warn peo­ple against com­pla­cency.

Health Min­is­ter Stephen Donnelly has a habit of do­ing in­ter­views and say­ing very lit­tle of value.

Donnelly re­peats the mes­sages we have had drilled into our heads for the past five months about so­cial dis­tanc­ing and hand clean­ing and so forth, which is fine and help­ful to a de­gree.

Then he tells us all we are do­ing a fan­tas­tic job in fight­ing the virus.

But af­ter that he says noth­ing of im­por­tance which might of­fers re­as­sur­ances to the 3,500 pub­li­cans and their 50,000 staff.

Min­is­ters freely ad­mit that bad com­mu­ni­ca­tion has been a huge prob­lem for the new Govern­ment and has led to a se­ries of un­nec­es­sary prob­lems.

In the first few months of the Covid emer­gency, Govern­ment mes­sag­ing was very clear and the coun­try got on board.

The emerg­ing in­for­ma­tion deficit at this vi­tal stage is a cause for worry.

Maybe he just for­got that one time to wash his hands or maybe he never does

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