The Government has taken the wraps off its latest plan to enable indoor dining and drinking in the Covid era. Under the plan, legislation to enable more than two million people to dine indoors – if they have been vaccinated or had a recent Covid infection – will go to the Dáil as soon as today. Here’s what you need to know.
When will this come into force?
There is no specific start date flagged in the legislation, but the Government has said it wants the legislation in place by Friday, July 23rd, or the following Monday, the 26th, at the latest.
Who will be able to dine indoors?
In line with advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team, indoor dining is being restricted to those who are fully vaccinated or those with a recent Covid infection. This is classified as having been infected in the last six months, meaning those who were infected during the Christmas surge are unlikely to be able to dine indoors until vaccinated.
How will they be able to do so?
The main proof will be the European Union digital Covid certificate, which is being issued to about two million people for use in travel. It is being adopted for use in indoor dining. In terms of Covid infection, it seems likely a medical cert from a doctor will be sought on similar grounds to those used in travel. Under the legislation, the Minister can prescribe what documents are accepted as proof of recovery from infection.
How will it be checked?
While your Covid green cert will be checked by airport staff using an app when being used to support travel, it appears bar staff will merely be eyeballing it rather than scanning it. It’s likely to be open to them to cross reference it against another form of ID.
Again, similarly to travel, it seems evidence of vaccination other than the cert will eventually be accepted, such as the card given to someone when they are vaccinated, and there’s provision in the legislation to recognise mixed vaccine regimes. But it’s not clear yet when non-digital cert alternatives might be accepted. The Government has promised to set out what other medical documentation will be accepted “in the coming days”.
Customer data will not be retained or used by pubs and restaurants.
What about non-EU countries?
Nationally-certified equivalent certificates will be recognised from the United States and the UK, again in a similar approach to international travel.
What about children?
Those aged under 18 can accompany vaccinated or recovered adults for indoor dining.
Are there time limits on indoor dining? What about social distancing?
These two questions are interlinked: where distances of two metres can be maintained between tables, there will be no time limit. Otherwise, a limit of one hour and 45 minutes will be in place. In hotels, where vaccinated and unvaccinated residents and workers will be mixing, full social distancing measures will be continued.
Who will enforce the system?
The Government envisages a fair degree of self-regulation. The Garda are unlikely to be patrolling restaurants looking to check vaccination status. However, it is envisaged the Health and Safety Authority and the Health Service Executive will be able to carry out compliance checks, which are permitted under the act. Fáilte Ireland will be producing operational guidelines for reopening, with the hospitality sector expected to comply with the work safely protocols – an emphasis on increasing air flow, filtration and the use of C02 monitors is likely to feature.
What about staff?
The inequity of serving staff being unable to take a drink or meal has been (sort of) ironed out, with a specific exemption allowing them to do so in their place of employment. However, whether this will prove enough to mollify the Opposition, who have targeted this issue in recent days, remains to be seen.
What about penalties for breaches?
Those who forge certificates will be eligible for fines of up to €2,500, with more significant penalties for bars and restaurants found to be flouting rules. The Bill creates several new offences, including the power to apply for an “emergency cessation order”, or other orders restricting a premises capacity to serve indoors for periods of seven or 30 days. Heavier fines and prison sentences of up to a year are envisaged for those convicted of allowing indoor dining after a cessation order is issued. Operators of premises will be required to “take reasonable steps” to ensure only permitted people can access their bars and restaurants.
What about antigen testing?
At this juncture the precise role for antigen testing in the hospitality sector is unclear, but it seems not to be an immediate concern. The Government's new expert advisory group on rapid testing, chaired by Prof Mary Horgan, will be asked to provide guidance.
How long will these rules remain in place?
There’s a sunset clause of October 9th, but they can be extended in three month periods
What happens next?
There will be a round of briefings for the Opposition and hospitality sector on Tuesday, so expect any arguments or last-minute hitches to come to the surface quickly. Already, People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy has said the plans are a "reckless mistake" and accused the Government of rushing into the changes.