SOME pubs in Cork may never reopen after the Covid-19 crisis, particularly if the sector has to remain closed until after a vaccine has been found.
That is the fear of the chair of the Cork City branch of the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI), Michael O’Donovan, of the Castle Inn.
He was reacting to comments made yesterday by Health Minister Simon Harris, in which he said he could not imagine a scenario where “people can be packed in pubs again as long as this virus is still with us and we don’t have a vaccine or an effective treatment”.
Responding, Mr O’Donovan said predictions from medical experts indicate that a vaccine for the virus could be between 12 and 18 months away.
“It is quite scary to think that we could be closed until a vaccine is found,” he said.
“As a business owner, it is a bit of a shock to hear.
“There is a strong possibility that some pubs may not reopen if they are closed for a prolonged period of time.
“There would also be large job losses in that scenario.”
Mr O’Donovan said the VFI had been hoping for a roadmap on May 5 on when pubs could reopen — when the current set of public health restrictions expire.
But he said: “The comments are putting that a step back for us.”
He also said that the VFI is hoping for more concrete information in relation to the comments made by Mr Harris in the coming days.
There is concern among publicans regarding a wide range of implications, including business interruption cover in insurance policies.
Mr O’Donovan said he received several calls yesterday following Mr Harris’s comments in the Sunday Independent, and he added: “Our members are very concerned.”
But he said public health is more important in the overall Covid-19 crisis, and also admitted that social distancing is not possible in a pub scenario.
Yesterday, Mr Harris also indicated that the possibility of reopening schools one day a week is being considered.
Publican Benny McCabe, who owns 15 pubs including Crane Lane, Mutton Lane, The Oval, and Sin é, said it is premature to be talking about opening schools, which, he said, should be the last to open. He said: “Schools should be the very last to open, on the basis that a lot of childminding is being done by grandparents.”
He pointed out in such scenarios, grandparents are vulnerable to picking up the virus from grandchildren, because social distancing would be very difficult to enforce in school settings.
And he said: “There seems to be a lot of talk about the pubs being the last to reopen and if that’s the case so be it, but really it also means every cafe, deli, and restaurant.”
He said hotels, theatres, and cinemas are also in a similar position, although possibly to a lesser degree.
The Bishop of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross, Dr Paul Colton, also raised concerns about the possibility of children returning to school.
Reacting to Mr Harris’s comments, he tweeted: “Personally I would not be happy for schools physically to reopen, even once a week, until we can be sure that it’s safe.
“Most schools are busy & crowded places. If pubs cannot safely open then neither can schools.”
The discussion around a timeline for lifting restrictions came as the number of deaths in Ireland topped 600.
There were 39 new deaths in Ireland relating to the coronavirus yesterday, as reported by to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.
The centre was notified of 37 deaths in the east, and two in the west of the country.
There were no new deaths in the south relating to the virus.
The recorded deaths include 19 females and 20 males, with the median age being 84. Some 29 people were reported as having underlying health conditions.
A statement from the Department of Health said: “There have now been 610 Covid-19 related deaths in Ireland.”
A summary of all 610 deaths provided by the HPSC shows that;
346 (57%) of those who died were male, 264 (43%) were female;
The age range is 23 to 105;
The median age of those who died is 83;
Some 337 of these cases were admitted to hospital with 46 admitted to ICU.
Meanwhile, as of 11.15am yesterday, an additional 445 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported by Irish laboratories, as well as an additional 48 confirmed cases reported by a laboratory in Germany. This brings to 15,251 the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the Republic.
Yesterday’s data from the HPSC, as of midnight last Friday (14,602 cases) reveals:
The median age of confirmed cases is 48 years;
Some 2,223 cases (15%) have been hospitalised;
Of those hospitalised, 303 cases have been admitted to ICU;
Some 3,788 cases are associated with healthcare workers;
Dublin has the highest number of cases at 7,379 (51% of all cases) followed by Cork with 1,028 cases (7%);
Of those for whom transmission status is known: community transmission accounts for 63%, close contact accounts for 32%, and travel abroad accounts for 5%.
The chief executive of the HSE, Paul Reid, has said the backlog of testing in Ireland has been cleared.
Mr Reid told a HSE briefing that they have significantly built up capacity over recent weeks.
“We are now in a position where we’re meeting the existing demands set out in the current definitions,” he said.
“So we have a zero backlog, which I committed to last week.”
Mr Reid also said China has placed stronger controls on the export of its personal protective equipment, which has “potentially threatened” the supply chain to Ireland.
He added that supply of personal protective equipment will remain “a significant challenge” because worldwide demand is so high.
Mr Reid added: “We are in a much stronger position than many countries, particularly many countries in Europe.
“It still remains to be a key focus for us so that we keep our staff and we keep our care workers, and we keep patients and the public safe.”