The Irish Times view on indoor dining: a delicate balancing act

The industry is understandably anxious to start operating again as soon as possible so as to make the most of the busy summer season

Guidelines due to be issued by Fáilte Ireland on the resumption of hospitality will be an important in assisting business owners to prepare their premises to operate safely in the summer. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov / RollingNews.ie

Guidelines due to be issued by Fáilte Ireland on the resumption of hospitality will be an important in assisting business owners to prepare their premises to operate safely in the summer. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov / RollingNews.ie

 

With the national vaccination programme continuing apace and economic life gradually resuming across the State, the Government is coming under pressure to speed up the reopening of pubs and indoor dining, which will be among the last settings to readmit customers. Guidelines from Fáilte Ireland on the resumption of hospitality will be an important contribution to the process, assisting business owners to prepare their premises to operate safely in the summer.

The guidelines are expected to put a welcome emphasis on good ventilation – an essential, too-often overlooked tool in the battle against what is, after all, an airborne virus – and set out a range of other useful and workable ideas, including a distance of one metre between tables and a limit of six people per booking.

A more complicated – and contentious – issue is when, rather than how, to reopen pubs and restaurants. The industry is understandably anxious to start operating again as soon as possible so as to make the most of the busy summer season. The Restaurants Association of Ireland has called for all restaurants to be allowed to serve food indoors from June 2nd, the same date on which hotels will be allowed to do so, because, it argues, “there is no difference between a hotel restaurant and an independent restaurant next door”.

However, the strongest argument for a staggered reopening is not that hotel restaurants are different but that there are fewer of them. By delaying reopening for indoor dining generally, the idea goes, social contacts across the population are reduced, thereby giving the vaccination campaign a few more weeks to broaden its impact.

Those few weeks could be crucial. Emerging scientific studies suggest the so-called Indian variant of Covid-19 can put up significant resistance against a single vaccine dose, which means people will need two doses to reach a high protection level. So there is a delicate balance to be struck between the very real concerns of the industry and the need to ensure that the gains of recent months are maintained.

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