'Stick to small groups' - top doc's plea as Covid community cases rise

‘Pubs should use all outside tables’

31/08/2020 People wearing face masks on Grafton Street during the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic in Dublin's city centre. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

Eilish O'Regan and Gabija Gataveckaite

The country is facing another escalation in Covid-19 cases unless more action is taken to tackle the disease, a hospital consultant warned yesterday.

Prof Sam McConkey of Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, said medics are also seeing a rise in patients admitted due to the virus in recent days.

He was speaking as another 307 cases of the virus were reported yesterday - the highest daily toll for months - with one new death.

Prof McConkey suggested an overhaul of the way restrictions are imposed could be looked at with measures targeted at very local levels of 2,000 to 3,000 people.

He said he is particularly concerned at figures for Dublin where 182 cases were reported yesterday, including 44 due to community transmission - which means the people infected had no idea where they caught the virus.

This makes tackling the spread of Covid-19 more difficult because the source is unknown.


"On a practical level, people can reduce their risk by cutting down on their contacts and sticking to the same small group of people," said the infectious diseases consultant.

Pubs could be allowed to reopen but regulations should be tightened to only allow people from the same family or household sit together at a table, he added.

He suggested publicans should use all their outside seating if they have it and physically distance the tables with only customers who are from the same house sitting together.

"All of the serving staff should wear masks," he stressed.

On a practical level, people can reduce their risk by reducing their contacts and sticking to the same small group of people, he added.

Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn pointed to the worrying level of virus circulating in areas in Dublin where it cannot be traced.

He urged "everyone to follow the public health advice and keep your distance".

"Do not underestimate the risks associated with any of your interactions, including with your family, friends or work colleagues," he added. "Now is not a time to let down your guard - assume that you or those that you meet may be infectious and act accordingly."

Nationally, as many as 72 cases were due to community transmission - this means the virus has caught hold and is in places where people are active daily.

Any shortcuts taken by people in physical distancing, handwashing or wearing of masks could leave them vulnerable to picking up the infection as a result.

There were 182 new cases in Dublin, 25 in Kildare, 19 in Limerick, 15 in Wexford, 15 in Louth, eight in Wicklow, six in Galway, six in Clare and six in Kilkenny.

The remaining 25 cases are located in Cavan, Cork, Donegal, Kerry, Longford, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Sligo, Tipperary, Waterford and Westmeath.

Ivan Perry, professor of Public Health in UCC, said he was worried that the reopening of pubs clashed with the start of the academic year in third-level colleges.

Meanwhile, Ryanair has warned staff it will close its bases at Cork and Shannon airports if quarantine restrictions are not lifted.

In a letter to crew in Cork and Shannon, CEO Eddie Wilson said that bookings this winter in the two airports "and to a lesser extent Dublin" have suffered significant damage.

The letter hits out at the Government's travel restrictions and the Green List, which have been harshly criticised by the airline from the outset.

"The Govt [sic] have promised a review of the Green List restrictions on Monday 14th next, but you should be aware that if these quarantine restrictions from EU states are not lifted before the end of Sept, we will have no alternative but to close our Cork and Shannon bases, on a temporary basis for this winter season," he wrote.

"In those circumstances, all pilots and cabin crew will be put on unpaid leave from the end of Oct (you may be able to benefit from Government support schemes)."

He writes that Ryanair will "do our best" to reopen the two bases in March "but only if these failed restrictions to other EU states have been lifted in time for traffic to recover.


"Ryanair will continue to operate flights into Cork and Shannon from bases elsewhere, such as London Stansted, Manchester and Liverpool, but the frequency of these flights will be significantly reduced for the winter season, and for as long as these defective quarantine restrictions remain in place," Mr Wilson adds.

"I know that the news will come as a major shock and disappointment to all of you who have worked so hard since July to restore our flights and services, but bookings and loads continue to be weak and we cannot sustain flights from Cork and Shannon when our Govt ignores the EU safe travel policy and instead actively bans our customers flying without 14 days of quarantine (except in the case of Micheal Martin's visits to Brussels when he observed no quarantine at all)," he added.

A Ryanair spokesperson said: "Ryanair does not comment on negotiations with its people."