Getting out of lockdown: Leaders from different sections of Cork society have their say 

Getting out of lockdown: Leaders from different sections of Cork society have their say 
A woman queues to go into Clonakilty Pharmacy wearing a face mask to protect herself from Covid-19. Picture: Andy Gibson

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is due to announce  a roadmap for the country to exit lockdown, but has said the easing of restrictions will be slow and gradual.

He said changes will be made every two to four weeks.

“Unfortunately for those who would like an immediate return to a pre-Covid world, the easement of the current restrictions will be slow and gradual,” said Mr Varadkar.

Today, The Echo hears from different sections of Cork society — the elderly, a bar owner, construction leader, hotelier, and health expert — who outline their hopes, fears and frustrations as a new normal beckons.


PUBLICANS:

Pubs need to be on the same reopening timeline as restaurants and cafes, Cork City chairperson of Vintners Federation of Ireland Michael O’Donovan has said.

Mr O’Donovan said hospitality establishments share customers and it would be an unfair advantage to have certain sectors of the industry opening over others.

“We are hoping all hospitality outlets will be on an equal footing,” Mr O’Donovan said.

“If people have choice, it is good for the consumer. All we are asking for is a level playing field.”

Mr O’Donovan said many of the pubs that offer food service are possibly better able to provide enough space to socially distance.

“There are a lot of pubs doing food that are bigger than restaurants and better able to physically distance.”

He said any issues in relation to a lapse of social distancing was something that would be experienced across the sector regardless of the outlet. “Most restaurants serve wine, spirits and craft beers, they are in direct competition with food bars, the same issues apply.”

Mr O’Donovan said the most important thing they would like to see come out of today’s announcement is clear guidelines on what they need to do in order to reopen.

The Vintners yesterday revealed that 60% of Dublin pub owners say they will go out of business if they have to stay closed until next year.


Paddy O'Brien, advocate for the elderly.
Paddy O'Brien, advocate for the elderly.

THE ELDERLY:

The cocooning elderly are crumbling under the pressure of confinement and loneliness due to the current restrictions, according to older persons advocate Paddy O’Brien.

Mr O’Brien said he would like to see some concessions given to the elderly going forward, such as allowing them to go for a spin in their cars and walk within an extended radius of 5km or 6km.

He is very concerned about the elderly getting depressed.

“People are collapsing under the pressure, it is becoming too much for them.

“The loneliness is becoming depression.

“It is very serious, a lot of sad, depressed people are definitely affected by this. I am concerned about people living with no contact.

“Contact is vital and I am very concerned about the effect it is having on people.

“They are confined and must adhere to the guidelines, as we all have a role to play, but if there were some changes made it might be easier to manage.”

Mr O’Brien said a month ago, people were saying it would be grand, now the gardening is done, the house is cleaned, the presses are organised, there is nothing left to do. “People know they are negative, they have no zest, their heart is gone out of them.

“A large number of people over 70 are driving and they are telling me they would give anything to be able to go for a spin.”

Professor Tom Cotter of UCC Biochemistry Dept. 
Professor Tom Cotter of UCC Biochemistry Dept. 

BIOCHEMISTRY EXPERT:

Ireland must double its Covid-19 testing capacity and ensure reliable results are available within 24 hours to safely reopen society, an expert in biochemistry at University College Cork (UCC) has said.

Tom Cotter has been professor of biochemistry at UCC since 1995.

He says for society to safely reopen, there must be a dramatic increase in testing capacity for Covid-19 and an effective antibody test to determine whether people had the virus and have now recovered.

“When society is opened up once again, we have to be able to test people very, very quickly,” he said.

“There are two things the Government needs to do before they start opening up everything again — they’ll need a very good antibody test and they’ll need a PCR [polymerise chain reaction] test for the virus, and they will need to be available within a 24 hour period.

“When lockdown is released and people are out and about, if anyone gets sick they need to be tested along with everybody they’ve come into contact with, within 24 hours,” he added.

PCR testing and antibody testing are the main methods of testing being used across the globe in the fight against Covid-19.

“The antibody test will tell you whether you’ve had the coronavirus before or not, and are therefore probably immune or not,” said Prof Cotter.

“The PCR test will tell you if you have the virus and are infected. These two tests need to be streamlined with a turnaround time of 24 hours so that if there is another outbreak of the virus, we can catch it straight away,” he added.

“Some of the antibody tests that are available now are good while others are bad — we need to make sure we have a really good one to tell if people have been infected and have recovered.

“This test tells you if you have antibodies from the virus which means you had it and are now OK.

“Then you’re immune to it but for how long, we actually don’t know at the moment.”

Prof Cotter said that the Government is likely to release some parts of industry in Ireland on a step-by-step basis.

“They’ll loosen low-risk areas like construction and hardware stores, and then they’ll watch to see what happens,” he said.

“If the infection rates don’t go up, they’ll release another sector or group of jobs, and they’ll watch again — then they’ll keep going like that.

“It’s a watching and waiting game because we can’t afford to have another outbreak of this,” he added.

Fergal Harte, general manager of The Kingsley.
Fergal Harte, general manager of The Kingsley.

HOTELS:

CLARITY and financial support are what the hotels of Cork want to hear from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar today as the roadmap to a new normal is announced.

Chairperson of the Cork branch of the Irish Hotels Federation, Fergal Harte, said for the duration of the pandemic, the landscape of the hospitality sector will be significantly altered.

“Social and physical distancing in its current guise is extremely difficult, there is no question about it.

“All of the things that we want to promote in our hotels, in terms of a nice atmosphere, enjoyable ambience, and a social element are all becoming difficult to create if people are confined and can’t mix, and even from the perspective of a restaurant or a bar, you have to restrict the numbers and space people out.

“All the things we associate with hotels will be changed for this period anyway.”

Mr Harte said there were a number of challenges to face, but that the Irish Hotels Federation was looking at it with an open mind.

“We are making plans and looking to the future, hotels are anxious to reopen, but we need clarity and support, financial supports to make the industry viable.”

In terms of financial assistance, the Mr Harte said the organisation was calling on the Government to waive local authority rates and water charges for 12 months as well as a reduced Vat rate of 0% for 12 months, business interruption grants, and work to provide support from the banks.

CAR DEALERSHIPS:

The managing director of Blackwater Motors, Denis Murphy, says he is “frustrated and angry” by the ongoing lockdown.

Mr Murphy said he did not understand why they could not go back to work next Tuesday, May 5.

“As it goes on, it is becoming more difficult, people are becoming more and more disillusioned, they are not afraid of the virus anymore, they are afraid for their livelihoods,” said Mr Murphy.

He said his staff are worried about what is going to happen in the industry if they do not get up and running soon.

“Eighty-five per cent of businesses are closed or substantially reduced. That is colossal,” he said.

“The guys making the decisions don’t own businesses, they are still getting paid, they still have their pensions.”

Mr Murphy said he would like to see more transparency in the decision-making process.

He said that the reason for the lockdown was to prevent a surge and if hospitals are managing at the moment, surely then businesses should be allowed to recommence in line with strict social distancing and other guidelines.

“I can’t see why we are not opening next Tuesday,” he said. “They must think we are totally irresponsible and unable to follow these social distancing guidelines.”

Michael O'FLynn, O'Flynn Group CEO
Michael O'FLynn, O'Flynn Group CEO

CONSTRUCTION: 

CORK developer Michael O’Flynn believes now is the right time for construction work across the country to restart.

He said that if social housing has been deemed safe to be built, private housing can be dealt with similarly.

His company was in the process of delivering around 200 houses in Cork and Dublin at the time construction was deemed non-essential, and he had to lay off around 500 people who were either directly employed or subcontracting at a number of sites around the country.

However, with an updated announcement expected today on restrictions, Mr O’Flynn said he sees no reason why construction couldn’t restart with adequate procedures in place.

“We have all embraced the restrictions for five weeks now. I absolutely understand that the health issue has to come first, but I think part of our industry can restart in a safe way,” he said.

Mr O’Flynn outlined a number of steps the industry has taken, including the development of new operating procedures and manuals being circulated, in preparation for a safe return to work.

“I’m very hopeful, especially given that social housing sites have been back for the last week now.

“Private housing is the same method of construction as social housing, so if someone could form a conclusion that social housing is safe, then private housing must be safe, but only on the basis that there’s total adherence to the HSE guidelines,” Mr O’Flynn told The Echo.

“I think housing is a special case. In a lot of countries housing never closed. I appreciate the decision here was to do that, and for all the right reasons,” he said.

“Having said that, everything has to be considered, and I think now is the time to consider easing back, but only if it can be done safely.”


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