The Government has approved the resumption of indoor hospitality for people who present evidence of vaccination or immunity and children accompanying them.
Legislation to give effect to the changes will be brought before the Oireachtas as early as today. Once passed, it is expected to be signed into law by the President next week, allowing pubs and restaurants to open for indoor service by the end of the week, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said on Monday night, or, at the latest, in two weeks’ time, on Monday, July 26th.
Indoor pubs and restaurants will be required to seek evidence of immunity from people, usually in the shape of an EU digital pass, which is being issued this week to people who have been vaccinated. But pubs and restaurants will have no means of validating the pass, and the Government on Monday night admitted that the system would work mostly on trust.
“I know this is not the ideal way to reopen indoor hospitality,” Mr Varadkar said, “but the alternative is to wait until September.
“We are making a distinction between those who are vaccinated and those who are unvaccinated, at least for a short period of time,” he said, “but I hope people won’t see this as discrimination. This is entirely a public health measure.”
The Government said guidelines on how the system would operate would be issued in the coming days, following consultation with health authorities and industry representatives.
It is hoped the reopening will be extended to other indoor venues, such as bingo halls, but Mr Varadkar said there was little chance of nightclubs opening “for quite some time”.
He said some parts of Europe had reopened too quickly and had to reimpose restrictions. “I can’t guarantee that won’t happen here, but the objective is that shouldn’t happen here.” He said the Government was moving “slowly, in steps” so that businesses could reopen “and make sure they don’t have to close again”.
Asked about enforcement, Mr Varadkar said he hoped the system would be “self-enforcing” but that gardaí and Covid inspectors would have the power to police the system. But both Mr Varadkar and Minister for Culture Catherine Martin, who made the announcement at Government Buildings on Monday night, admitted that the system could not be watertight.
“What will not be happening is gardaí and inspectors going from table to table checking people’s names or numbers or Covid passes. We think that’s unnecessary and excessive enforcement,” he said.
Ministers approved the new legislation on Monday evening during an incorporeal Cabinet meeting, following a meeting between the three leaders of the Coalition parties. The plan was agreed following discussions with hospitality industry representatives and public health experts in recent weeks.
Pub and restaurant representatives had lobbied strongly for reopening after a planned lifting of restrictions was abandoned in early July due to concerns about the spread of the more infectious Delta variant of Covid-19. Case numbers due to Delta infections continue to rise but Ministers believe the extra few weeks, with vaccinations proceeding at a rate of 250,000-300,000 a week, will build a stronger “vaccine wall” against the spread of the virus.
The HSE reported 600 more new cases on Monday, and Ministers and officials expect that daily number to rise significantly over the coming days. However, they expect the experience in the UK, where a rise in cases has not yet seen an equivalent rise in hospital admissions or deaths, will be repeated here.
Opposition parties expressed reservations about the plan but the Government said the legislation would have a “sunset clause”, meaning it would lapse after three months, unless there was a vote in the Oireachtas to extend its provisions.
Industry representatives welcomed the news, with the Restaurants Association of Ireland saying it was “a giant leap towards reopening hospitality businesses safely, viably and sustainably”.