There have been no further deaths related to Covid-19 in the State and 53 new cases confirmed, according to figures released on Sunday evening by the Department of Health.
This means the death toll from the virus stands at 1,763 while the total number of cases in the State rises to 26,162.
Last Thursday saw a spike of 85 new cases. This was followed by 38 extra cases on Friday and 45 on Saturday in what the department’s Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn called a “clearly concerning trend”.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is to give advice to the Government next Tuesday before the Cabinet decides whether or not to move to phase four of the reopening plan under which pubs that do not serve food would be allow to open.
Earlier, infectious diseases expert Prof Jack Lambert has said it was not “the right message” to be saying that “if we open up the pubs then the schools won’t be able to open in September”.
The UCD associate professor also said he did not believe the State’s restrictive travel policy was the answer to dealing with Covid-19.
He said there were fewer cases of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland than in the Republic even though the latter had a more restrictive travel policy.
“We have to focus on where the clusters are in Ireland,” he said.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio on Sunday, he suggested “regional targeted openings” of pubs “maybe . . . would make sense instead of total openings. Or maybe we should go ahead with the openings. We’re kind of saying if we open up the pubs then the schools won’t be able to open in September.
“I don’t think that’s the right message.”
He said Denmark had opened its schools and was doing quite well. “But they’ve also tackled the problem of community transmission much better than we have.”
Prof Lambert said Covid-19 “is going to go on for three years. We can’t stay locked down for three years and we can’t have our plan not open up or close down depending on the increases or decrease in the numbers of cases.”
He said the solution “isn’t to wait and see and have more restrictive processes than the rest of the EU and Northern Ireland.
“We have to have a plan that is viable and sustainable.”
Prof Cliona Ní Cheallaigh, associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at Trinity College and consultant at St James’s hospital in Dublin, said the recent increase in new Covid-19 cases were “ worrying in that there may be spread going on unnoticed in the community”.
However, she said, opening schools was “hugely important,” adding: “Children don’t seem to get very sick with the disease. There have been conflicting reports about children not being particularly good at transmitting the disease onwards so schools would seem to be a relatively sensible thing to do.
“And I think we need to look at the low cost, low harm interventions like getting the kids to wash their hands, to clean the door handles, to clean the taps in the toilet,” she said.
Speaking to presenter Damien O’Reilly on RTÉ Radio One’s Brendan O’Connor Show, she said people should look at getting children “out doors more as much as is possible in our climate.
“Do their Maths lessons, do their English lessons, do their play lessons outside. It’s good for them in many ways. So those are the no downside interventions. Get them good rain gear.”
Decisions to ease restrictions meant asking “are you willing to accept a one per cent risk of thousands of people dying?”
Lack of inspections
On Sunday, Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane expressed concern about the number of workplace inspections being carried out.
While there were 67 HSE inspectors and 500 more were seconded into the system amid the pandemic, only an average of 220 on-site inspections were taking place per week. “That’s only one inspection every two weeks for the number of inspectors we are told are on the ground.”
The Waterford TD said there was an average of 10 enforcement proceedings a week.
He also hit out at the “absolute lack of controls” at airports. “Even the most basic temperature testing isn’t happening.”
Mr Cullinane said regional approaches to pub openings should be considered and “on the same basis as restaurants with time limits, proper social distancing and table service.
“We have to look at the difference between a small rural pub in Kerry, Galway, Waterford or Cork and ask is that the same as a pub that needs high volume on the high street in Dublin.”
Also speaking on radio, Deirdre Devitt, former chair of the Licensed Vintners Association and owner of the Two Sisters pub in Dublin’s Terenure, said she felt the way publicans were being treated was “tremendously unfair”.
Pubs “will be closed for 40 per cent of their year, that’s their livelihood. We’re talking about family businesses here, up and down the country,” she said.
“Why are the pubs carrying the financial burden of Covid-19? There’s no cluster that I know attached to pubs,” she said.
“I firmly believe we should open all of the pubs, that we should all have a guideline and that it should be a level playing field for everybody.”
A lot of publicans who “thought they were opening on July 20th have that stock and now they don’t know if they are opening on the 10th [of August]. I think it’s totally unfair. There seems to be a perception that Covid is going to strike in every pub in the country. I fervently believe that’s not going to happen,” she said.