Up to 50,000 bar staff are to temporarily lose their jobs as the Government has called on all bars and night clubs to close tonight until March 29.
It comes as the National Public Health Emergency Team announced 40 new cases of coronavirus in the country today. It brings to 169 the number of confirmed cases in Ireland.
The NPHET said there are 25 new cases in the east of the country, nine in the west, and six in the south. Twenty-three of the new cases are males, 17 females.
The closure of bars, agreed with the industry bodies for the bar trade, was demanded after bars found it impossible to comply with social distancing protocols put in place to deal with the Coronavirus.
Health Minster Simon Harris made the announcement following discussions with the Licenced Vintners Association (LVA) and the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI).
“The Government is now calling on all public houses and bars (including hotel bars) to close from this evening until at least 29th March,” he said.
“The LVA and VFI outlined the real difficulty in implementing the published Guidelines on Social Distancing in a public house setting, as pubs are specifically designed to promote social interaction in a situation where alcohol reduces personal inhibitions,” Mr Harris told reporters.
Reacting to video footage of thronged pubs over the weekend despite the warnings, Mr Harris said it was disappointing that some publicans and members of the public were ignoring the warnings.
This is a very serious virus. People need to cop on and wise up
The Government said it is also calling on all members of the public not to organise or participate in any parties in private houses or other venues which would put other peoples’ health at risk, Mr Harris said.
Having consulted with the Chief Medical Officer, the government believes that this is an essential public health measure given the reports of reckless behaviour by some members of the public in certain pubs last night.
While the Government acknowledges that the majority of the public and pub owners are behaving responsibly, it believes it is important that all pubs are closed in advance of St. Patricks’ Day.
The Licenced Vintners Association (LVA) and the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) both supported this decision and urged all their members to close in line with the Government’s request.
Donal O'Keeffe, CEO of the LVA said the decision would have a “traumatic impact” on his members but that it was the right call. Brian Foley of the VFI said the impact on rural pubs would be significant and warned that many pubs which close their doors tonight will not re-open their doors.
The LVA and VFI both supported the decision and urged all their members to close in line with the Government’s request.
The Government said it will also monitor restaurants and cinemas on the effectiveness of the guidelines on social distancing in the coming days.
Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health said: "In regard to upcoming St. Patrick's Day celebrations, the Government is calling on all members of the public not to organise or participate in any parties in private house or other venues which would put other peoples lives at risk.
"Everyone is asked to reduce their social contact over this time period. House parties/Covid parties carry the same risks as being in a pub/club, therefore people should not organise or attend them. The virus is now in our community, it is up to us to limit its spread,
"Now is the time for action and to heed the public health advise we will continue to provide."
Rachel Kenna, Deputy Chief Nurse, Department of Health, said healthcare workers are working under "extraordinary conditions" as they prepare for the potential impact of the virus.
Ms Kenna said: "If all citizens work together and comply with social distancing guidelines, and other measures the Government may take in the coming weeks, we will have a stronger response to this virus. Help our healthcare workers in their task. "
The National Public Health Emergency Team will meet tomorrow to review preparations for Covid-19.