The Government is to face considerable pressure in the coming days to resist advice from public health experts to further delay the reopening of drink-only pubs in Dublin later this month if Covid-19 numbers remain high.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) made a series of recommendations after its meeting yesterday as 196 new cases of the disease were confirmed, more than half of which were in the capital.
In an attempt to curb the rising number of infections in Dublin, which has been attributed to gatherings in homes, the team has proposed some restrictions for the county. These include reducing the number of households from which people can gather in a home from three to two, with a maximum of six people allowed to visit.
The Northern Executive yesterday announced the introduction of restrictions in Belfast and parts of Co Antrim in an attempt to halt a rise in coronavirus cases. People from different households are to be prohibited from meeting in private homes, which First Minister Arlene Foster said had been a “villain” in the resurgence of Covid-19.
NPHET also suggested it might be premature to reopen public houses in the capital from September 21st. Sources said the key decisions would occur closer to that date and will depend on the prevalence of the disease in Dublin at that point.
Ministers have privately said it would be a painfully difficult choice to reverse a decision to reopen pubs – albeit on a regional basis – for a third time.
Senior Dublin-based Ministers, including Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, have questioned the logic of keeping pubs in the county closed.
“The Cabinet will ask what could ‘wet pubs’ have to do with spreading the virus if it’s happening in houses,” said a source with knowledge of the discussion.
“There will be ferocious lobbying between now and Tuesday from vintners and from politicians, and also from the public.”
The Cabinet’s Covid-19 sub-committee, which also met yesterday, did not specifically discuss the latest recommendations, focusing instead on the mid-term Living with Covid-19 plan which is to be published early next week.
It is understood that the Government will also allow people to start attending sports events from next week. Changes will be introduced on a phased basis with figures of 5,000 people mentioned for big grounds such as Croke Park and the Aviva Stadium, and 400-500 for smaller grounds, where social distancing is harder to achieve.
NPHET would continue to provide advice under the new plan but a new oversight group, chaired by the State’s top civil servant Martin Fraser, is to be established to analyse public health advice and make its own recommendations to Government.