Nightclubs and most music venues will effectively be able to operate at full capacity when they reopen tonight after 585 days of enforced closure with the Government last night making major concessions to the hospitality sector.
The latest phase of Covid-19 restriction easing will proceed today despite a marked deterioration in the trajectory of the disease over the past fortnight.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said hospitality businesses would need to strictly follow requirements to ask customers for vaccination certificates and contact details with the numbers going out set to increase.
“To avoid any new restrictions coming in, to avoid going back, will demand vigilance on behalf of the people generally – all of us. And therefore when we go to establishments, we should at least as a minimum, insist that the basic standards have been applied,” he told reporters at an EU summit in Brussels.
Talks on the latest guidelines for the sector ran on into last night, with the Government opting to alter a number of requirements.
Nightclubs, shuttered since March 2020, will be able to open with 100 per cent capacity, essentially eliminating social distancing protocols but for when patrons are ordering drinks at the bar.
However, distancing requirements will remain in pubs and restaurants, with Adrian Cummins of the Restaurant Association of Ireland saying Government officials cited “a younger and lower risk demographic” attending nightclubs as the rationale for the distinction between the businesses.
Bar counter service will be allowed for the first time since restrictions were initially introduced. Socially distanced patrons will be allowed to queue and order, but must then return to their seats after collecting the order. Pub representatives said this should ease some of the staffing issues that have arisen.
Minister for Arts Catherine Martin said 1,500 people would be allowed to stand in indoor music venues. This means that most venues in the State – with the exception of the likes of the 3Arena and the INEC in Killarney – would be able to host full-standing events.
Ms Martin said the measures represented progress for the sector and denied that there had been delays or a lack of engagement on the part of her department. Some industry sources said they had won concessions but were unhappy with the engagement that occurred.
“Everything changed in the last seven days with Covid-19. Unfortunately that is the one constant that throws up something at us and complications arise,” the Minister said. “It’s the best we can do. It is moving in the right direction. We have to be cognisant of Covid too.”
Infections on Thursday
Ahead of the latest reopening, a further 2,029 cases were reported and HSE chief executive Paul Reid warned that non-urgent procedures would have to be cancelled across the hospital system if Covid-19 numbers hit the levels predicted by the National Public Health Emergency Team.
Its models forecast 800 to 1,000 coronavirus patients in hospital by late November, including 150 to 200 in intensive care. There were 448 people being treated in hospitals for the disease yesterday morning, including 88 in intensive care.
A HSE media briefing was told that incidence was rising across all age groups but particularly among older people, with rates up by more than one-third among those aged 65 to 84. This shift in age profile was leading to more people being hospitalised and admitted to intensive care, said Mr Reid.