All customers who eat and drink indoors in pubs and restaurants will have to provide their name and telephone number for contact tracing, according to new draft guidelines released ahead of next week’s reopening of indoor hospitality for the fully vaccinated.
The guidelines, which were published shortly before midnight on Friday, state the EU digital Covid certificate will be the main form of evidence for people seeking to eat indoors. Customers will be asked to present their certificate or HSE Covid-19 vaccination record or other proof of immunity at the entrance to the premises where they are eating or drinking and the QR code on the certificate will be scanned. Customers may also be asked to show photo ID to prove they are a “permitted person”.
All customers, aside from those under 18, will be required to give contact tracing details which will be retained by the business for 28 days, according to the draft guidance for indoor hospitality. Businesses will have to keep a “record of the time and date of arrival” of each customer along with their name and telephone number which will be stored in compliance with GDPR rules, it added.
All entrances to the restaurant or pub must be “defined, managed and supervised” by staff with “an appropriate queue management system” at point of entry, note the guidelines. Measures will also be needed to ensure those without the necessary documentation cannot enter the premises.
There will be no time limit on the amount of time customers can sit at a table, while a maximum of six people aged 13 or over can sit at each table and there will be no requirement for pre-booking, it added. The six-person limit will not include children aged 12 or younger and the total capacity at a table with children will be 15 people.
Counter service will remain prohibited and all premises will continue to have to close at 11.30pm as per the current Covid-19 regulations.
If a customer leaves the premises for any reason, including to access a smoking area, they must notify a staff member and will subsequently either have to be rechecked or provided with a “clearly identifiable non-transferable pass”, according to the guidelines.
Physical distancing of 2m must be maintained between two tables; however, if this is not possible, it can be reduced to 1m “in controlled environments”, said the guidance.
Customers will have to wear face coverings at all times when not seated at their table and music performances, dancing or other entertainment between tables will not be permitted.
The decision to require contact tracing details from all customers over 18 has angered stakeholders, with one source saying the decision “came out of nowhere”. “Previously if there was a group of four, we would take one set of details. Now we have to take everyone’s mobile number,” said a source.
The decision to require supervision at all entrances will “have staffing implications”, the source added. Businesses that do not adhere to the rules in relation to proof of vaccination may be liable for fines or closure, according to guidelines.
The Attorney General met Government officials and Fáilte Ireland on Friday morning to finalise the regulations that will govern the indoor dining system coming into force on Monday. Attorney General Paul Gallagher raised concern at Cabinet on Wednesday over some elements of the regulations, such as data protection, enforcement and the exclusion of unvaccinated people.
President Michael D Higgins has signed off on the legislation underpinning the new indoor dining system. An app for businesses to check proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid had been expected to be ready on Friday.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the latest guidelines were “hugely important” for the hospitality sector but underlined that they were “designed to be a temporary measure”.
“I know that operating this new system will be inconvenient for business and could add to staff costs,” said Mr Varadkar. “It is, however, the only way we can reopen and stay open throughout this Delta wave.
“Hopefully, it will not be necessary in a few months’ time but it is good to have it in place in case it is. There will be teething problems and we will work with the industry to review and amend the regulations as needed and based on practical experience.”
When asked on Friday about the rise in cases attributed to the Delta variant, the Tánaiste said “the link between cases and number of people in hospital, in ICU and who have died, has very significantly weakened”, and noted there are between 800 and 900 more hospital beds than before the pandemic.
“That isn’t to say the hospitals won’t come under pressure – they will – but we believe it’s one we can manage and therefore we don’t believe we have to reimpose restrictions.”
The much-mooted Covid-19 booster shot is being worked on “on a contingency basis” according to the Tánaiste, who said it’s still in the early stages and vaccination data from Israel is being reviewed.
Mr Varadkar said the Government expects that there will be a steep rise in cases over the coming weeks and indicated that restrictions are unlikely to be further eased until the Delta wave passes.
“There is a strong sense, certainly in Government, and certainly advice we are getting from Nphet, that we should go very carefully around any further easing of restrictions at least until the Delta wave peaks and that should be in a few weeks’ time.”
Separately, in relation to the number of people who can attend weddings, Mr Varadkar said the Cabinet will consider this next week.
“We should be able to give people more information then. I suppose the difficulty in applying the immunity pass systems to weddings would be around children attending and people potentially having to disinvite people who are not vaccinated, or not fully vaccinated, and I think that would be very difficult.
“It is something we would have to really think through.”
Meanwhile the Department of Health has announced that an online recovery certificate portal has been launched to allow members of the public request a certificate of recovery.
Instead of calling the digital Covid certificate helpline, a person can now fill out an online form to request a certificate of recovery.
A member of the public can request this certificate if they have had a positive RT-PCR test more than 11 days ago and less than 6 months (180 days) ago. This certificate proves that you’ve had Covid-19 in the last 6 months, and is considered another form of the EU digital Covid certificate.
Details in ‘black and white’
Ahead of his organisation’s meeting with the Government, chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland Adrian Cummins told RTÉ it was his gut feeling that the majority of restaurants will be “ready to go” for Monday’s reopening. Some may not have their staff ready, he acknowledged, but in general the industry had a “can do” attitude and they are ready to welcome customers on Monday.
Customers will also need to know what will be required of them so they can bring the proper documentation, he said. “It’s important that we all work together, that the flow into restaurants is operated in a proper manner,” he said.
“We’re trying to speed up the process from when customers arrive to when they are seated at their table.”
Mr Cummins said members of the sector already had a briefing on the technical side of the new regulations, including demonstrations of how to scan the EU digital Covid certificate.