Cabinet to discuss increasing number of guests allowed at weddings as indoor hospitality reopens

‘Day of relief’ for publicans but CMO urges people to ‘avoid crowded spaces’

Restaurants and bars have reopened for indoor hospitality for people who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19, and children. Two neighbouring Dublin pubs, The Boar’s Head and Slatterys of Capel Street were busy. Video: Bryan O'Brien

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Ministers will tomorrrow push for the numbers permitted at weddings to increase beyond the current limit of 50 guests.

A number of Cabinet sources said they believe that the numbers should increase to 100 guests from August 5th with Ministers set to argue that the limit should be increased given the high uptake of Covid-19 vaccinations.

It comes as thousands of restaurants and pubs have reopened for indoor dining and drinking today after almost 500 days of closure for some venues.

More than 3,000 pubs reopened today, with 25,000 staff expected to sign off the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP).

Today is a “day of relief” for the industry, Padraig Cribben, chief executive of the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI), said, although there was anxiety and challenges with the guidelines.

Regulations governing the reopening from today were signed shortly before midnight on Sunday, with small changes to the draft guidelines published on Friday.

The final regulations require pubs and restaurants to take the contact details of only one adult member of a party rather than all members of a group as initially proposed in the draft.

Those people who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19, and children, are permitted to dine indoors.

There were 1,345 new cases of Covid-19 reported by the Department of Health on Monday while the number of patients in ICU is up three to 25.

But Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan urged people to “continue to avoid crowded spaces, keep distance from others, keep indoor settings well ventilated by opening windows and doors, wear a mask where appropriate.”

He said there was a high incidence of Covid-19 among many counties and a significant increase in hospitalisations over the past fortnight.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin urged the public to remain careful in the coming weeks. “We have made good progress in the last six months in reopening sectors of society, so we want to protect that progress,” he said.

“Even though we are reopening indoor dining, we still have to be very, very careful. “There’s a Delta variant that is highly transmissible and we have to protect ourselves. “The ideal scenario is a continued rollout of the vaccination programme, combined with sensible, precautionary behaviour on all our part. ”

Change welcomed

Speaking to the Irish Times, Mr Cribben said the hospitality industry welcomed the change.

“We made it clear to officials that the contact tracing issue would slow down the admittance and be counterproductive from a public health perspective and the designated table proposal would be largely unworkable,” he said.

He told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland there was a lot of anxiety among his members about the reopening of indoor hospitality today.

There were some templates for the recording of details that the VFI had yet to see, such as how to register customers who have documentation about vaccination from the US, the UK, Europe and Northern Ireland.

Mr Cribben said his members were concerned about dealing with members of the public who refused to wear a mask and the coverage on social media of people who had indicated they were going to “cause problems” for the sector because of their opposition to the regulations.

The reopenings will be spread out over the week as outlets come to terms with the requirements. Many businesses had been closed for 16 months and they needed to reopen, he said.

“It’s not just about publicans, it’s about the public too,” said Mr Cribben who went on to call on the public to observe the new regulations which will be “the law of the land”.

The guidelines include a requirement for diners to present their digital Covid certificate, or their Health Service Executive (HSE) vaccination card proving they are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or that they have recovered from the virus. For contact tracing, one adult in a group will have to give their details.

A dining party can include a maximum of six adults with up to nine unvaccinated children.

Under the guidelines customers are only permitted to remove their masks once seated.

There will be no service at the bar, and all premises will be required to close by 11.30pm, although this may be reviewed later in the summer, depending on how well the programme operates.

Staffing

Hospitality industry representatives are unhappy about aspects of the guidelines which they describe as “not practical” at a time when the sector is experiencing a staff shortage.

Adrian Cummins, Restaurants Association of Ireland chief executive, said the changes were welcome and would “help in terms of streamlining the flow of customers into hospitality venues”. People were “delighted to get the doors open, but it will be very difficult for us in the conditions we have to operate in. There’s a mixture of excitement and nervousness and worry about how this will go,” Mr Cummins said.

He said the single biggest issue for the industry now was a shortage of staff “across the board”, which he described as a catastrophe.

“We estimate that 30 per cent of our staff is gone. We’re standing still with only 70 per cent, and that’s far from where we need to be for a labour-intensive industry.”

Some hospitality businesses intend to remain closed or to continue to cater for customers outdoors due to concerns about staffing and policing the guidelines, which some have argued are discriminatory against people who have not been vaccinated.

Grogan’s Castle Lounge on South William Street in Dublin said it would continue to serve outdoors but would not be able to reopen indoors today due to staffing issues. It said it hoped to be in a position to do so in the coming weeks.

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