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Cheers! Irish pubs reopen as end of lockdown nears

Ireland's 7,000 pubs shut their doors on the eve of St Patrick's Day, which is traditionally marked by street parades and carousing
Ireland's 7,000 pubs shut their doors on the eve of St Patrick's Day, which is traditionally marked by street parades and carousing Paul Faith AFP/File
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Dublin (AFP)

Irish pubs unlocked their doors and began pouring pints on Monday, ending a 15-week dry spell forced by the nation's coronavirus lockdown.

Pubs serving food as well as restaurants and hotels were permitted to open as the republic enters the penultimate stage of its plan to lift stay-at-home restrictions.

"Guinness is good for you," quipped Mark O'Mahony -- the first to order a pint with his breakfast at Dublin's Doheny & Nesbitt pub.

"Without it, it hasn't been much good really for 15 weeks."

Staff milled around the wood-panelled bar's sparse tables in rubber gloves and face visors, guiding customers around a one-way system marked on the floor.

Under new measures the traditional experience of a heaving Irish pub has been curtailed.

Social distancing means drinkers will have to remain seated, with a maximum stay of 105 minutes.

"It feels great to be able to come into work again, come back to some sort of normality," said manager Eric Connell.

"We don't know how it's going to go," he added, lamenting the loss of business after closing in the midst of the Six Nations rugby championship and on the eve of St Patrick's Day -- both major drinking occasions in Ireland.

"Are people going to be afraid to come into the pubs?"

- Down in three -

Across town at family pub The Boar's Head, trade was swift at lunchtime, as Guinness delivery men unloaded kegs into the cellar.

Signs commanded new arrivals to wait to be seated and on the bar hand sanitiser was on tap.

Andy Williams, a 27-year-old advertising worker, was enjoying a pint of freshly poured Guinness. "It doesn't taste the same out of a can," he said.

"There's a lot worse going on in the world but at the same time it's good to get back to normality, and a pint in Dublin is normality for me."

Meanwhile, his colleague Sean Fitzgerald, 32, gamely drained his pint in three sips.

Ireland's 7,000 pubs shut their doors on the eve of St Patrick's Day, which is traditionally marked by street parades and carousing, two weeks before lockdown on March 28.

"There is a pent-up public demand to return to the pub, mixed with some natural anxiety," said Padraig Cribben, of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland.

Pub industry organisations estimate some 2,000 of their members will open on Monday, while the rest await the final stage of the nation's scheme to reopen on July 20.

Meanwhile on Monday all domestic travel restrictions were also lifted, as churches, hairdressers, cinemas and museums opened and mass gatherings of 50 indoors or 200 outdoors were permitted.

Ireland has seen 1,735 deaths in the coronavirus outbreak, according to health department figures on Sunday.

Since peaking at 77 in a day in mid-April, the daily toll has dwindled to single digits in June, prompting the government to quicken its initial "roadmap" to reopen the nation.

The original five-phase plan was reduced to four phases, with shop and pub openings brought forward. Nearly all restrictions are now due to lift in July rather than August.

But chief medical officer Tony Holohan warned Saturday that a growing number of new infections are in the under-35 age bracket.

"This is now a real concern and a worrying trend at a time when many people are reconnecting with friends and loved ones and may be gathering in larger groups," he said.

"COVID-19 is an infection that affects all ages and it is incumbent on all of us to take our individual responsibility seriously."

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