CLAREMORRIS — Some of Ireland’s pubs were pouring pints on Monday for the first time in nearly four months as the country lifts most coronavirus-related restrictions.
Speaking over the evening chatter of customers in The Western, a pub and hotel in Claremorris – a town of around 4,000 people in the west of Ireland – manager Patrick Mitchell said “we had no idea what to expect today, we have been quite busy, but it is a bit different.”
Patrons are allowed one hour and 45 minutes drinking-time in bars that serve food – as long as they splash out on a “substantial meal” priced at 9 euros (10 dollars) or more and adhere to social distancing requirements.
Inside The Dalton Inn, about 100 metres down the street from The Western, owner Andrew Cooper said “we’re sticking strictly to those rules.”
The regime means that only bigger pubs equipped with kitchens will reopen for now – with the food tab so far a deterrent to would-be punters.
“Normally at this time of year we’d be busier, we’re looking at about 50 per cent of the usual,” Cooper said of his first evening’s post-lockdown trade.
Hotels and restaurants can also serve alcohol to sit-in customers – who cannot crowd around the bar as they would have before the coronavirus onslaught.
“There is pent-up demand there,” said Maggie Ruane, head of sales and marketing at the plush Breaffy House Resort, a twenty-minute drive from Claremorris.
“Today phones are ringing, people are asking are you open, can I get a pint?” she said.
The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI), an industry group, labelled the reopening requirements as “onerous” on Monday – though a proposed two-meter social distancing minimum had earlier been halved after an outcry by pub owners.
“That has helped,” Cooper said of the distancing reappraisal.
Many of the hostelries that reopened on Monday are in capital Dublin, where around one-third of Ireland’s 4.75 million people live.
Padraig Cribben, chief executive of the VFI, said in a statement that “more than 60 [per cent] of our members will remain closed” until all pubs can reopen on July 20.
In Castlebar, a town of about 15,000 people and 25 kilometres north of Claremorris, most pubs had not reopened – while those in smaller nearby villages remained locked – with closure notices dating to March fluttering on rain-soaked doors and windows.
Cinemas, gyms, hair salons, hotels, places of worship and restaurants were also reopening across Ireland on Monday, after business groups complained that months of pandemic-related restrictions had taken a heavy commercial toll.
Earlier in June, the Dublin-based Economic and Social Research Institute warned that Ireland’s economy could contract by up to 12 per cent in 2020.
The Central Statistics Office reported on Monday that retail sales for May were 26.6 per cent lower compared with the same month in 2019.
The pandemic appears to be receding, with new daily cases below 20 most days in June – though the government’s chief medical officer Tony Holohan warned of a possible spike after 24 new cases were confirmed on Monday.
“As restrictions are lifted and people move about more, it’s important that we use the tools that have helped us suppress the virus to date,” Holohan said during a press conference.
Ireland has reported 25,462 cases of the novel coronavirus and 1,735 related deaths.Show