I thought the Leaving Cert problem was sorted out, so what's going on now?
Because students couldn't sit exams during the pandemic they were all to get calculated grades instead. The plan was that teachers would make assessments on each student and they would be submitted and grades or CAO points would be issued accordingly. The problem is this has never been done before; there has been no trial run of it and no detailed examination of the process until now, so it was always likely to hit a bump on the road. Bumps usually mean a delay. The results were expected to be issued in mid-August, as Leaving Cert results usually are but the new Education Minister Norma Foley says more time is needed to make sure the system can function with the CAO system and its UK equivalent. That means results can't be issued until September 7, three weeks later than usual. The CAO offers can then happen the following Friday.
So that problem isn't really linked to Covid-19 or any of the new cases?
Not at all, but the new cases are problematic in their own right.
Tell me about it, I can't even get a pint without paying for a meal. What's that all about?
Well, the pubs were supposed to reopen fully from tomorrow but that's been pushed back because there is some alarm about the number of cases linked to people socialising, especially house parties.
So why does that impact the pubs?
Well, officials are concerned that reopening the pubs fully will lead to an increase in the number of people going to them, but also lead to more bar-hopping. The worry with that is if a person was to come in contact with Covid-19 in one bar, they could carry it into other establishments and become something of a super-spreader. That's a disaster for contact tracing and makes it very difficult. During the early stages of the outbreak, a handful of clusters were quickly linked to pubs. It seems bars are an ideal setting for the virus to spread because we spread droplets from our mouths when we speak or leave them on glasses when we drink. If a person has Covid-19 those droplets will cause the virus to spread.
So how does a €9 plate of nuggets and chips stop that?
It doesn't, but it is a deterrent for people and stops bar-hopping and alters the experience of going to a pub. The idea is very few people will go to multiple bars in an evening and buy a dinner in each one just to have a few pints and leave after the time limit has elapsed.
So when will the pubs reopen instead?
Everything that was supposed to resume tomorrow has been put back to August 10 for now.
OK, so what's this with house parties? Why are they so bad?
Well there is concern about two very different house parties on opposite ends of the country. There was one in Kerry two weeks ago where a group of friends travelled from various parts of the county to Killarney and rented a holiday home. They went out on the Saturday and had a party that evening. There were 30 people in the house. One had Covid-19. Until then, Kerry had seen very few positive cases of the virus for the best part of a month. It has had five cases since the Killarney house party.
That's worrying. So what happened at the second house party?
That was in the North, near Derry. A group of people got together in a house and practised social distancing so thought they would be fine. It turns out they were doing karaoke and the virus may have been passed on to people as they passed the microphone around the group. One of the people tested after attending works in a shop. So there are concerns this could have increased the risk of community transmission. After the party in Killarney one of the people attending travelled on public transport, so that sparked some concern too.
So how bad are our numbers now?
On Friday night there were 34 new confirmed cases, which does not sound like a lot compared to where we have come from, but that is the highest daily increase seen for a month. It shows the virus is spreading at a much more aggressive rate. The R number, which measures how many people are getting infected is estimated at being between 1.4 and 1.8. This means anyone with the virus is passing it on to more than one person. Officials want this number to remain below one.