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Indoor hospitality: Late change removes requirement to take contact details from all adults

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

The final regulations require pubs and restaurants to take the contact details of only one adult member of a party, rather than all members of a group as initially proposed in the draft.

Pubs and restaurants are this morning making final preparations the reopening of dining indoors for those who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from the Covid-19 virus, and for children and some staff.

There had been an overnight change to the requirement that details of all members of a party be recorded.

Representatives of the hospitality industry have welcomed the overnight development in respect of the contact tracing details and the removal of the designated table provision.

Change welcomed

Speaking to the Irish Times, chief executive of the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI), Padraig Cribben said the hospitality industry welcomed the change.

“We made it clear to officials that the contact tracing issue would slow down the admittance and be counterproductive from a public health perspective and the designated table proposal would be largely unworkable,” he said.

He told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that there was a lot of anxiety among his members about the reopening of indoor hospitality today.

There were some templates for the recording of details which the VFI had yet to see, such as how to register customers who have documentation about vaccination from the US, the UK, Europe and Northern Ireland.

“Today is a day of relief,” he said, after almost 500 days of closure. But that feeling of relief was also mixed with anxiety, he added. “There are many challenges in the guidelines.”

Mr Cribben said his members were concerned about dealing with members of the public who refused to wear a mask and the coverage on social media of people who had indicated they were going to “cause problems” for the sector because of their opposition to the regulations.

The reopenings will be spread out over the week as outlets come to terms with the requirements. Many businesses had been closed for 16 months and they needed to reopen.

“It’s not just about publicans, it’s about the public too,” said Mr Cribben who went on to call on the public to observe the new regulations which will be “the law of the land”.

More than 3,000 pubs will reopen today, with 25,000 staff expected to sign off the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP).

The guidelines include a requirement for diners to present 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.

For contact tracing, one adult in a group will have to give their details.

A dining party can include a maximum of six adults with up to nine unvaccinated children.

Under the guidelines customers are only permitted to remove their masks once seated.

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.

Staffing

Hospitality industry representatives are unhappy about aspects of the guidelines which they describe as “not practical” at a time when the sector is experiencing a staff shortage.

Restaurants Association of Ireland chief executive Adrian Cummins said the changes were welcome and would “help in terms of streamlining the flow of customers into hospitality venues”. People were “delighted to get the doors open but it will be very difficult for us in the conditions we have to operate in. There’s a mixture of excitement and nervousness and worry about how this will go,” Mr Cummins said.

He said the single biggest issue for the industry now was a shortage of staff “across the board”, which he described as a catastrophe.

“We estimate that 30 per cent of our staff is gone. We’re standing still with only 70 per cent and that’s far from where we need to be for a labour-intensive industry.”

Some hospitality businesses intend to remain closed or to continue to cater for customers outdoors due to concerns about staffing and policing the guidelines, which some have argued are discriminatory against people who have not been vaccinated.

Grogan’s Castle Lounge on South William Street in Dublin said it would continue to serve outdoors but would not be able to reopen indoors today due to staffing issues. It said it hoped to be in a position to do so in the coming weeks.

Incentive schemes

Mr Cummins said the Government needed to sit down with the industry to “fast track a solution to restaffing the sector and look at avenues to get people back into the workforce”. He suggested that incentive schemes might be a solution.

Mr Cribben, chief executive of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, which represents pubs outside Dublin, said most rural pubs had staffing issues “already finalised” but there was “no doubt” some in tourist areas would be struggling to find staff.

He said the latest guidelines were onerous and cumbersome for staff to implement and that managing all the records now associated with indoor hospitality would make life difficult for publicans.

“It’s not a practical system for business owners so we’re asking people to be patient, co-operate and please remember that publicans and their staff are only doing their job,” he said.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly yesterday appealed to people to “use the same common sense that they have right through this pandemic” as indoor dining resumed. He wished the sector the best of luck as it reopened “after such a difficult time”.