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