‘Unacceptably high number’ of venues not enforcing Covid certs, says Donnelly

Compliance by hospitality sector key for restrictions to be avoided, says Taoiseach

Some operators are not enforcing the regulations to ensure that only vaccinated patrons are entering their venues, says Donnelly. Photograph: Tom Honan

Some operators are not enforcing the regulations to ensure that only vaccinated patrons are entering their venues, says Donnelly. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has warned the live entertainment sector that the Covid-19 vaccination certificate must be used and enforced at venues.

Mr Donnelly said that an “unacceptably high number” of operators are not enforcing the regulations to ensure that only vaccinated patrons are entering their venues.

The Minister said data and surveys of patrons showed that two out of every three pubs and restaurants are “doing the right thing, they are enforcing the rules. However one in three are not.”

Mr Donnelly was speaking during a debate in the Dáil on “Covid-19: Reframing the Challenge, continuing our recovery and reconnecting”.

The debate follows the controversial announcement of the reopening of nightclubs that was marked by confusion and widespread criticism.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has also said bar operators need to “make sure there is compliance” with Covid regulations if new restrictions are to be avoided.

Speaking in Brussels where is he attending a summit of EU leaders, Mr Martin stressed that both customers and business operators needed to ensure that Covid passes were checked and other regulations were observed.

“The bottom line is this. 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 said.

Mr Martin said that he had not heard earlier suggestions from Tánaiste Leo Varadkar that private security personnel could have a role in enforcing compliance with rules in pubs and nightclubs.

“I haven’t heard the Tánaiste’s remarks,” Mr Martin said, “but suffice to say my view in terms of compliance is that we have to really work hard, collectively with the sector, to build up compliance in relation to the application with vaccination certificates using all of the agencies”.

He said that environmental health officers “have a role to play... but I think fundamentally the operators need to engage, make sure there is compliance, as well as the public”.

Mr Martin said he was “concerned about the increase in numbers” which would have necessitated another lockdown were it not for the vaccination programme.

“The situation in relation to Covid, you know, is deteriorating, not just here but across Europe and in quite a number of member states. We’re in a better position, comparatively, because we have higher levels of vaccination, which is helping to prevent severe illness and death.

“But you know we are concerned about what’s happening in the UK . . . And likewise other EU member states.”

Anomalies

He said that anomalies between various sectors would “iron out”, but added: “I would appeal to all sectors as well not to be looking at the sector next door and saying, ‘I want a bit of that’.”

Earlier, Mr Varadkar said the Government could not rule out the reimposition of Covid restrictions, although he added that his hope was that the country could “ride out” the current wave of infections.

“Nobody can rule out the reimposition of restrictions,” the Tánaiste, who is also in Brussels, told journalists.

“The CMO (chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan) was clear about that in his letter. I’ve always been clear that I thought we’d have to get through at least another winter before we can say that the pandemic was safely behind us.”

However, Mr Varadkar added: “We do have 800 more beds in our hospital system than we had before the pandemic, we have surge capacity in the ICUs. We have the ability, if needs be, to use the private hospitals so, you know, it is possible for us to ride out this wave, to get through the second peak of delta, without having to reimpose restrictions. But that can’t be guaranteed unfortunately.”

Mr Varadkar also said that in hospitals the current wave is “a pandemic of the unvaccinated”.

“Most of the people in ICU are not vaccinated. So we’d ask the people who haven’t been vaccinated to please do so.”

Mr Varadkar said that the reopening of hospitality was being done in “a cautious way with controls and protections... but it’s getting back to normal, it’s not the old normal, it’s the new normal, at least until next spring”.

“You know the simplest thing is to say to people ‘stay at home’. The second simplest is ‘go back to normal’. The bit in between, which is risk mitigation, safely reducing risk but acknowledging there is a risk is a bit more difficult, and that’s a challenge that we haven’t had,” he said.

Scrambling to prepare

Asked if he understood the frustration of nightclub owners who are scrambling to prepare for reopening without clear guidelines, he said: “I totally understand the frustration. But you know this is an evolving situation.

“We only received the advice on Monday, and we’ve been engaging with them ever since, so we’d expect to have those guidelines out today, so to be ready for tonight.”

He had no plans to go to a nightclub himself, he said.

Mr Varadkar is in Brussels for a meeting of leaders of the European People’s Party Group, the alliance of Christian Democratic parties of which Fine Gael is a member.

It takes place in advance of an EU summit today and tomorrow, which is being attended by Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

The Tánaiste said that the EPP leaders would discuss “pan European issues, how we deal with the pandemic which is ongoing, the energy price crisis which is affecting the entire continent, and also other issues, for example, around the rule of law in Poland”.

He said that the EPP’s approach to Poland had been one of “inclusion”.

“You know, we’ve tried to keep people in the club and keep people in the European Union, including United Kingdom, but obviously that wasn’t successful.

“And in relation to Poland, the opposition to the government in Poland is led by the EPP, you know, Donald Tusk, the President is leading the opposition in Poland and is very much saying to the Polish people that when the next elections comes ‘choose a European course, choose to be a full member of the European Union again’ and I look forward to campaigning for Donald in Poland when that time comes.”

Vaccine appeal

The Minister also appealed to the 360,000 people yet to be vaccinated or only partially vaccinated to “think again”.

He said it was 607 days since the first Covid-19 cases was identified in Ireland and since then more than 5,000 people had died with the virus.

Mr Donnelly said that efforts to encourage people to get vaccinated included pop-up vaccination centres and clinics in local electoral areas where the take up is low.

Appealing to the reluctant he said “your decision to not get vaccinated is helping this virus to continue to spread” and added that more than half .

Some 7.4 million doses have been administered since programme started in December with “around 90 per cent of eligible population” vaccinated.

But he pointed out that more than half of those in ICU are unvaccinated and he said he was increasingly concerns about the rising number of cases in nursing homes. He asked the unvaccinated to “please think again. Follow the science.”

Sinn Fein enterprise spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly asked why bar counters were still off licence. She said “the measure doesn’t seem to make any sense to the public or those in the pub trade and I hope there’s scope for this measure to be revisited, just in the interests of common sense.”

She said people will follow clear, easy to understand and logical guidance but where it is unclear “that creates a doubt and that causes a problem not just for patrons but for the workers as well”.

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