Indoor dining: One member of party to give contact details under new regulations

Small changes made to Friday's draft guidelines on Sunday night

Restaurants and pubs are due to reopen for indoor service from Monday, July 26th. File photograph: iStock

Restaurants and pubs are due to reopen for indoor service from Monday, July 26th. File photograph: iStock

 

Regulations governing the reopening of indoor dining were signed shortly before midnight on Sunday, with small changes made from draft guidelines published on Friday.

The new regulations say that only one member of a party will have to provide their details for contact tracing, rather than all members of a group.

Earlier on Sunday Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly appealed to people to “use the same common sense that they have right through this pandemic”, as indoor dining reopens on Monday.

He said “the public health measures are as important as ever as we fight the Delta variant. If people are symptomatic, they should isolate themselves and get tested.”

Mr Donnelly also urged that “those not fully vaccinated should avoid higher risk activities . And I’d encourage everyone to get vaccinated, to help us get back to more normal life.”

He said: “I’d like to wish the sector the best of luck as they open up again after such a difficult time.”

His comments came as pubs and restaurants were making final preparations for Monday’s reopening of dining indoors for those who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from the Covid-19 virus, and for children and some staff.

Under the draft guidelines, which were published on Friday, customers are only permitted to remove their masks once seated.

Diners are required to have 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.

Diners can include a maximum of six adults with up to nine unvaccinated children. 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.

The hospitality sector has expressed concern about insufficient staff to operate the system as one of the regulations requires them to have a staff member at every point of entry.

Grogans pub on South William Street announced on Sunday evening that it would not be opening its doors to patrons for indoor service on Monday, due to staffing issues.

“Unfortunately due to staffing we won’t be able to reopen for indoor service from tomorrow but hope to do so in the coming weeks,” said the pub via its Twitter account. “We will remain open for outdoor service going forward.”

Not open

On Saturday chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland Adrian Cummins said he estimated that one-in-four businesses would not open immediately, because they could not operate under the guidelines and lack of staff was the single biggest issue facing the sector.

Restaurants are facing a staffing “crisis” ahead of the reopening, said Mr Cummins, adding that there would be “teething problems” when the rules come into effect.

The draft guidelines include some unexpected requirements, Mr Cummins told The Irish Times, including the need for every entry point to be staffed.

“It is huge extra work having to man all the extra entrances into the premises... That is not what we were led to believe,” he said.

Business owners are preparing for the reopening, but there will be some issues as people become accustomed to the new rules. The association will “see how we get on” and assess how the system is working.

Other business owners will adopt a “wait and see” approach to the return of indoor dining, he said, noting too that some restaurateurs have chosen to wait until all of their staff have been vaccinated before opening.

Staffing will be an issue for the industry, as about 30 per cent of 2019 workers have been lost.

“There was a staff shortage before Covid. Now there is an absolute crisis in our industry,” he said.

Mr Cummins is calling on the Government to launch a national media campaign to make people aware of their duties when they arrive at restaurants and pubs to dine indoors.

“The public needs to understand what is required of them when they go out for a meal,” he said, asking that people treat staff in a “calm and respectful way” as they navigate the proof of immunity system.

‘Particularly high risk’

Meanwhile, Professor of Architecture at University College Dublin,Orla Hegarty, expressed concerns that there will not be adequate controls in place to ensure the air inside restaurants and pubs is not infected.

“We know that in certain conditions that can infect very many people within a very short period of time,” she told RTÉ radio’s Brendan O’Connor Show on Saturday.

Restaurants and pubs are “particularly high risk” in this regard because people stay for long periods while not wearing masks, she said.

Noting there are rules for food safety and clean water, she advocated for rules for clean air.

“The key thing is to prevent the outbreaks… If somebody infected comes in, they might infect somebody at their table but they won’t infect the whole room,” she said.

Prof Hegarty said hospitality workers are not equipped with the proper level of personal protective equipment. She noted she is “totally in favour of having all of these businesses open”, but she has been sounding concerns about ventilation since last October.

“The difficulty now is we are opening with unsafe rules again. It would be really unfortunate if they had to close because of that.”

Ventilation and filtration are important, and there are lots of affordable options available, she said: “It is about measuring the air and making sure it is clean.”