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Editor's Viewpoint

Enjoy pub again, but please imbibe wisely

Editor's Viewpoint


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Bar supervisor Jamie Devlin from the Thirsty Goat, Belfast

Bar supervisor Jamie Devlin from the Thirsty Goat, Belfast

Bar supervisor Jamie Devlin from the Thirsty Goat, Belfast

Today sees the most eagerly awaited relaxation of the lockdown rules - the opening of pubs. The Northern Ireland public love the conviviality of a night out in their local and if anything spells a return towards normality then it is going for a pint.

But these are not yet normal times, and going to the pub today will be a far cry from the traditional event.

There will be no standing at the bar; to obtain a drink food must be ordered; the time spent in the bar will be limited to 90 minutes; drinks will be served to tables, and those wanting to go to the pub will have to book their place.

The restrictions, which also include remembering to keep the required social distance from others, are a proper reminder that coronavirus has only been contained, not beaten, and remains a potentially lethal pandemic ready to spread again if the public ignores Government advice and relaxes its discipline.

But as Health Minister Robin Swann pointed out, those going to the pub today or in future days should drink sensibly. It is often said that "when the drink's in, the wit's out". The last thing the NHS needs is to deal with a spike in alcohol-related illnesses or injuries.

Figures released earlier this week show the pressure put on the NHS by alcohol and drug abuse. It takes up more than 200 beds a day, beds which are dearly needed for treating patients with other illnesses. And the cost of treating alcohol-related illnesses is a staggering £900m a year.

With soaring waiting lists, including for patients with lethal illnesses such as cancer, it is obvious that the public purse cannot sustain the amount of money needed by the NHS.

Mr Swann is correct in asking people to take a sensible approach to their alcohol intake. Alcohol should be enjoyed rather than abused, although that is very often not the approach taken on this island.

It will be interesting to see how customers adapt to the new rules, and how publicans can adhere to the guidelines and yet make their business viable. This is probably one of the key tests of how relaxation of lockdown will work.

Some might argue that it is a big gamble on the part of the Executive to allow pubs to reopen, but they are a key part of the hospitality industry, and with drink freely available from other outlets, publicans have felt hard done by. They and their customers will be raising a glass to Stormont.

Belfast Telegraph