That ministers and their medical advisers were looking very closely at the arguments for closing bars — and possibly cafes and restaurants — following the pattern set by the Italian, French, and Spanish governments is no secret. That the display of gross irresponsibility, recklessness, and selfishness seen in jam-packed bars on Saturday helped to settle the matter for them comes as no surprise.
The participants were mostly young and, presumably, healthy, but their behaviour — and the failure of the bar’s management to close the craic down, or at least thin the crowd — disgusted a country in which clinics and hospitals are working flat out to save lives and the vast majority of people and businesses are doing their best to follow the advice they’ve been getting from doctors.
It was perhaps optimistic to expect that the Government’s advisory limit of 100 for gatherings in pubs and clubs would hold the line when tested by real life; a crowd of 75 in a small bar would leave scant room for social distancing and anyway, who’s counting? But it was a fair stab at a compromise that will now be replaced by a shutdown that could cost tens of thousands of jobs and close businesses in one of the country’s key industries.
All pubs, including hotel bars, were asked to close from midnight last night until at least March 29, in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19. It was vital this decision was taken ahead of St Patrick’s Day.
That the Licenced Vintners Association and the Vintners Federation of Ireland support the decision that will have such a profound and heartbreaking impact on the livelihoods of so many of their members demonstrates that this pandemic must be tackled by each of us as an urgent priority, no matter the short-term cost.
Now, the very real fear is that socialising at pubs will be replaced by socialising at homes. Health Minister Simon Harris pleads that “Covid-19 house parties” don’t replace traditional St Patrick’s Day festivities.
This is where younger generations will have their role to play. Together, they have been a powerful force in recent times in this nation when engaging with the Eighth Amendment and same-sex marriage referendums.
Now is their time to once again show their civic duty and take seriously these warnings so that the sick, elderly, and most at-risk in our country don’t suffer the consequences.
As businesses across the country are forced to close their doors, with tens of thousands staring into an uncertain future without work, when our medical staff battle day and night to keep this abomination under control, it is incumbent on us all to take every precaution to tackle the spread of Covid-19.
It is heartbreaking to wander through streets with notices up confirming business after business have been forced to close. It is highly likely that some of them won’t be back.
But to see the messages from those businesses that voluntarily, defiantly, shut up shop and the community response from so many who are rallying round each other in the hope that short-term containment and delay can help us to once again prosper, shows why we should have hope.
We must all do what we can to support our local communities and when we see signs that this pandemic is under control, get out there and support our local businesses in a way we haven’t for many years.
This country is now facing up to what seems a near impossible task. Stay away from your neighbours, friends, keep to yourselves and toast St Patrick’s Day quietly so that when we emerge from this, which we will, we can celebrate all the louder.