The Minister for Health has said he understands the frustrations of those impacted by the delay to Phase 4 of the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, but the decision was made to avoid another lockdown scenario.

Stephen Donnelly has said the rise in the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 was being driven by clusters of cases all around the country and eight of these clusters were "quite significant".

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Donnelly said Covid-19 is spreading at a fast rate around the world, and the five-day average cases in Ireland has jumped from fewer than 10 to over 50 recently.

He said the National Public Health Emergency Team is unanimous and unambiguously of the view that things are "very, very finely balanced" and the Government decided to take a cautious approach.

Mr Donnelly said that international evidence shows the number of cases do rise when pubs reopen, but hoped in time that businesses and pubs might be able to reopen in a phased or regional basis.

He said schools are still on course to reopen at the end of the month and the Government's core focus is on getting students back to the classroom.

Earlier, Mr Donnelly said there are four clusters of Covid-19 in Direct Provision centres and four in food processing factories as well as smaller clusters all around the country.

Public health teams were on the ground and mass testing was going on, he added.

The minister said what was really worrying public health officials was a rise in the number of community transmissions where no one knew where a positive case had come from.

This was happening all around the country, he said, and meant it was not safe to put different restrictions in place in different areas, but it was something the Government might look at in the future.


Latest coronavirus stories
At a glance: What's changing in the restrictions from next Monday?


Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said the increase in incidences over the last seven days was "concerning".

He said it was important to protect the progress made to date and that young people had made very significant sacrifices but NPHET wanted more to be done to communicate with them.

It comes after the Cabinet agreed that the reopening of pubs would not go ahead on 10 August.

With pubs closed indefinitely, all but small weddings put on hold and no crowds at GAA matches, the Government is braced for the fall-out from its decision to further delay the reopening of the country.

The Government has said it will examine further, additional supports for sectors particularly affected by the virus, including the pub sector.

Decision on pubs 'kick in the teeth' - VFI

The Incoming President of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland has described the decision not to reopen all pubs next Monday as a "kick in the teeth".

Paul Moynihan said publicans had done all that was asked of them to reopen in a safe and sanitised way and said it was "very late in the day" to tell them they could not reopen on 10 August as expected. 

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Moynihan said the number of Covid cases have been rising while most pubs remain shut. He said there has been no increase in cases associated with pubs that serve food, which reopened five weeks ago.

He said supports are urgently needed for the sector as bills still have to be paid and pubs have already invested thousands of euro in preparing premises for an anticipated reopening.

The President of the Irish Hotels Federation called on the Government to review its approach to limits on larger gatherings and give clarity to hotels and couples who are planning weddings. 

Elaina Fitzgerald Kane said there was every reason for couples and venues to believe that weddings of 100 would go ahead from Monday. 

Ms Fitzgerald Kane, who is also director of Fitzgerald's Woodland's House Hotel and Spa in Adare, Co Limerick, said they have hosted three weddings under the new guidelines and said she "can't get over how compliant" people are.

Speaking on the same programme, she said some hotels have ballrooms of 900 to 1,000 square metres, but are operating under the maximum cap of 50 people, including staff. 

The Government also decided to remove Malta, Cyprus, Gibraltar, San Marino and Monaco from the travel green list.

Anyone travelling to Ireland from those five countries will now have to limit movement for 14 days upon their arrival.

Time right to pause relaxation of restrictions

Dean of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland said now is the time to pause the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions.

Professor Emer Shelley said every effort was made to relax restrictions in a structured and planned way, based on Irish data and international evidence, but there has been an inevitable increase in coronavirus cases.

She said every effort is being made to suppress the virus but the fact that Ireland is an island with so many global connections means there will be cases coming into the country.

Prof Shelley said that as well as recognising there is a spread of Covid-19 in the country, we must catch all of the imported cases and catch any associated clusters and outbreaks and by pausing now, this gives us the best chance to do that.

Public health expert says right to keep pubs closed

Public health expert and President of the Epidemiology and Public Health section of the Royal Society of Medicine Dr Gabriel Scally said alcohol is the virus' best friend and the only safe thing to do is to keep the wet pubs closed. 

He said in Scotland where pubs have just reopened, 32 people in one pub were infected with Covid-19.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sarah McInerney, Dr Scally said there is a distinction between wet pubs that just serve alcohol, and those that serve food and drink, adding that he has "never fought his way to the counter in a restaurant to get a drink order in". 

He added that a "zero Covid" strategy means cooperation North and South, no domestic cases, and putting controls on to make sure there are no imported cases. 

Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae accused the Government of treating publicans and their customers with contempt. 

The Kerry TD said he believes reopening pubs would protect people's health and queried the difference between going to a pub for a pint and a toasted sandwich for getting a drink in a "wet" pub. 

Speaking on the same programme, Mr Healy-Rae said you cannot compare the dangers that might arise in bigger pubs with smaller rural pubs where there may be just six or seven customers.

Yesterday, the Department of Health said there were no further deaths of people who had previously been diagnosed with Covid-19. The overall death toll is 1,763. 

The department also said there was an additional 45 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, bringing the overall total number of cases here to 26,253. 

For Covid-19, the World Health Organization says that data to date suggests that 80% of infections are mild or asymptomatic, 15% are severe infection, requiring oxygen and 5% are critical, requiring ventilation.

Meanwhile, a group of Irish scientists has said Ireland is heading into a long-term "social and economic catastrophe" if it does not adopt a "zero-Covid" policy. 

The scientists have written to the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response seeking a meeting.

They say their proposal, which they argue is backed by science, experience and extensive analysis, should be considered at national political level, and there is only a small "and narrowing" window in which to do this.

In their letter, the scientists say there needs to be universal use of masks in enclosed spaces, more targeted finding of cases, testing, tracking and isolation, as well as an effective system of testing and isolating incoming travellers.

Additional reporting Mary Regan and Kate Carolan