Covid-19: Pubs and restaurants should not open, says infectious diseases consultant

Infectious diseases consultant Dr Clíona Ní Cheallaigh has advised that pubs and restaurants should not open while levels of community transmission of Covid-19 remain high
Covid-19: Pubs and restaurants should not open, says infectious diseases consultant

A file picture of gardaí checking numbers on South King Street prior to the Level 5 lockdown. Picture: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie

Infectious diseases consultant Dr Clíona Ní Cheallaigh has advised that pubs and restaurants should not open while levels of community transmission of Covid-19 remain high.

It comes as the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) has said that pubs opening would be safer as it would prevent house parites.

Dr Ní Cheallaigh told RTÉ radio's Morning Ireland: “You can’t eat and drink and wear a mask at the same time”. Not wearing a mask in an indoor setting meant the virus could be transmitted, she said.

There was evidence that restaurants and pubs were “significant sites” of the spread of the virus, she said. The levels of the virus in the community needed to be far lower than the current levels before they could open.

“I can’t see it being safe in December.” 

The situation was heartbreaking, she said given that pubs and restaurant owners had spent so much time and energy planning for a safe opening. 

“Unfortunately the laws of infection are against that.” 

The public needed to find other ways to supports pubs and restaurants before they can open safely next year, she urged.

Dr Ní Cheallaigh also said she had a problem with people arriving into Ireland from abroad for Christmas. Many other countries had much higher levels of the virus and the dangers of travel on planes had been well documented she said.

While a person might test negative for the virus when they arrived in Ireland, they could be incubating and within days they could infect their elderly and vulnerable family members, she warned.

Dr Ní Cheallaigh also expressed concern about the level of outbreaks of the virus in hospitals. In shared wards it was difficult for patients to wear masks 24/7.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of the (VFI) Padraig Cribben has claimed that opening all pubs for Christmas would be safer as it would mean fewer unregulated house parties.

The air was “full of kites being flown” (on the issue) he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

We’re very clear, what we need to see is all the pubs to be open.

He said there should be no distinction between ‘wet’ pubs and those serving food and that having all pubs open would “spread the load”.

The numbers allowed into any premises should be based on the capacity of the venue for social distancing, he added. 

Some premises would not open because of their size or if there were vulnerable family members.

Mr Cribben said there wasn’t going to be a balanced view from Nphet about the opening of pubs. The CMO had made “a prejudgment” three weeks ago that people could not gather with their family in pubs at Christmas.

There was no evidence that there had been any spread of virus because of the hospitality sector, he said. 

In fact numbers might reduce by having pubs open as people would not be tempted to congregate in domestic settings.

“People are going to socialise. The Government needs to ask is it better to have them in a controlled environment or in a domestic setting where’s there very little social distancing and no wearing of masks.”

The Taoiseach told the Irish Examiner that shops will reopen from December 1. 

However, Cabinet is at odds over whether pubs and restaurants should fully reopen ahead of the usually busy Christmas period.

The final decisions around the easing of these restrictions are not expected to be hammered out until Thursday.

'Pubs and restaurants are safe environments'

One of Cork city's leading publicans, Ernest Cantillon, has said forcing people to squeeze their socialising over Christmas into a week or two runs the risk of causing large crowds to congregate.

Scenes of hundreds of people flocking to Cork City centre over the weekend to socialise in a 'carnival' atmosphere have raised concerns that large numbers are now ignoring lockdown restrictions.

Nine minor public order arrests were made and video footage of the crowds sparked concern among public health experts and political leaders in the city.

"Takeaway pints of Guinness and mulled wine don’t cause scenes like this," said Mr Cantillon.

The publican, who owns Sober Lane and Electric Bar in Cork city, closed his bars for takeaway drinks at 8.30pm on Saturday evening.

“Town at around 6pm was packed but it had an extremely nice atmosphere. People were outdoors, they were moving, pushing buggies, getting coffees or mulled wines, and wearing masks," he said.

By 10pm, he estimates that there were approximately 1,000 people in the city centre, including a lot of teenagers and young people. He also saw quite a lot of older people out who "would have never been out during the first lockdown."

"My point isn’t whether they should or not - clearly it would be easier and safer if everyone did or could stay at home but that’s not the case at moment for whatever reason - economic, boredom, foolishness, mental health, misinformed, all of the above and more..."

The government is finalising plans to ease level 5 restrictions on December 1, but there is speculation that the reopening of 'wet pubs' could be further delayed by two weeks.

"If people are going to go out, pubs and restaurants are safe environments. This craic about squeezing festivities into a week or two weeks [at Christmas], you’re going to have the same amount of people who want to go out but with way less capacity so you’ll end up with more people on the streets.”

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