Any moves by the Government to limit access to restaurants and pubs only to the fully vaccinated will be unworkable, potential illegal and anti-democratic, it has been claimed.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has also been accused of “losing the run of itself” by putting forward “ridiculous and unworkable” suggestions as to how the hospitality sector should be allowed to reopen in the weeks ahead.
The chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland Adrian Cummins reacted angrily to the plans being considered by Cabinet and accused Nphet of "crossing the line when it comes to democracy" and putting the Government in "an unviable position".
Mr Cummins told The Irish Times that if the hospitality sector was to be effectively closed off to hundreds of thousands of people who had not been able to get vaccinated it would be the clearest possible sign that “the ‘we are all in this together’ message is totally gone now”.
He also asked what would happen to restaurant staff, many of whom would be in a younger cohort who had not been given access to the vaccine programme yet.
“Where are they going to be in the equation? If this is to happen they will have to be prioritised. It is targeting younger people who have not been able to get vaccinations.”
He also called for the Attorney General to give a view on the legality of any such moves and he questioned how it would be policed.
“What will happen to couples if one is vaccinated and one is not? How are we to manage it in the restaurants and pubs and who is going to police how it is being policed? It is the 11th hour again and we still have no answer. And all the while we see hotels all along the west coast full and their restaurants and bars are full. It is just ridiculous and the entire industry is opposed to it because they can see all the pitfalls because they work in the industry.”
He also questioned why Nphet appeared to be out of step with public health officials in other countries and in the World Health Organisation which has expressed grave reservations about the introduction of any system which would limit access to elements of society to vaccinated people.
The Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) also said it would reject any move to separate out the vaccinated from the non vaccinated, describing the suggestion as "ridiculous and unworkable".
The chief executive of the LVA Donall O’Keefe said that any such system “would put every pub, restaurant and café in the country in an impossible position and would also lead to unvaccinated staff being charged with having to police who can and can’t enter their premises”.
He said the “latest suggestion from Nphet that pubs and restaurants should police who is and isn’t vaccinated is utterly ridiculous and unworkable. Nphet has lost the run of themselves and possibly the entire country this time.
“ It is completely bizarre that they would introduce such a system this late and basically try to panic the entire country into accepting a process that would create a two tier society. Does anyone in Nphet actually take into consideration the real world implications of these outlandish ideas at all? We can’t take them seriously after this.”
He said that from the “outset of this pandemic pubs and hospitality have made massive sacrifices for the good of public health. We are calling on Government to allow reopening indoors on July 19th, which is a further two week delay meaning some pubs will have been closed for 489 consecutive days at that stage. This will allow for those aged 60-69 to receive further vaccines and will be in line with the date of resumption of international travel. Pubs would then reopen with the current social distancing requirements and licensing hours that currently govern outdoor service.”
He noted that hotels across the country were operating at full capacity for indoor service since June 2nd and that indoor service is permitted across the border and in every other EU state.
“It is insane to contemplate that international travel would be permitted and yet indoor hospitality would not be allowed for all customers. Why is Irish hospitality being treated so differently? Anyone looking at other countries where indoor dining is already happening and where the delta variant is circulating can see that level of hospitalisations and deaths outlined by Nphet simply aren’t happening. Nphet’s claims need to be independently validated urgently.”
The chief executive of the Vintners Association of Ireland Padraig Cribben called on the Government to take a balanced decision on reopening indoor facilities.
“What we are seeing here is what I would term a Nphet variant, which is being facilitated by a government that is either incapable or unwilling to do what it is elected to do and take balanced decisions,,” Mr Cribben said.
The proposals suggested were not based on an independent medical analysis of Nphet’s advice, he said. The Government should not “abdicate its responsibility to Nphet”.?
Allowing only vaccinated people to use indoor dining and pubs would lead to “increased stress, anxiety and cost for a sector that is already on its knees,” he added.