There has been broad approval from all aspects of the hospitality sector in Ireland on the government’s proposed timeline for easing the current COVID 19 lockdown restrictions.
In an address to the nation, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: “The evidence is clear and incontrovertible – your effort and your sacrifice has saved lives.
“Because of the effort of our vaccination team and because you have stepped up to the mark and taken the vaccine when it was offered, we are now entering a whole new phase of the pandemic.”
Adding in the caveat that “If a new dangerous variant of concern emerges or if our hospitals come under unsustainable pressure again, we will move quickly to respond to the situation,” the Taoiseach outlined the proposed roadmap for reopening over the coming months.
There are two key dates over the coming month – 6th Seotember, and 20th September.
On this date, live indoor music will be permitted including at weddings, at a 60% venue capacity. For outdoor events, the capacity limit is 75%. All attendees must be seated for such events. All religious ceremonies will also be allowed to proceed with 50% of venue capacity, regardless of immunity status of attendees.
On this date, organised indoor group activities (e.g. sports, arts, and dance classes) can take place with up to 100 people where all attendees are ivaccinated. In situations of attendance by mixed immunity patrons, pods of up to six participants will be allowed. Restrictions on outdoor group activities will be removed, and offices will be allowed reopen on a phased and staggered attendance basis.
There is a longer term goal of 22nd October, whereby final restrictions (e.g. those for physical distancing, indoor mask wearing, attendance restrictions for events) will be fully lifted. It is on this date that late bars and nightclubs will be allowed to reopen.
The Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) believes the government’s decision to only permit live music with social distancing is contradictory and will delay the recovery of that sector.
Donall O’Keeffe, Chief Executive of the LVA, said: “We were surprised that the government took the decision to permit live music but then limit it to seated audiences. This seems a little contradictory. The practical impact of that is many hospitality businesses will unfortunately be slow and reluctant to commit to performers when everyone is restricted to their tables. Given that hospitality provides a significant number of the platforms available to live entertainment this will undoubtedly delay the recovery of that sector.”
Patricia Callan, Director of Drinks Ireland, which represents drinks manufacturers and suppliers said: “Currently the plan says that there will be no changes to the current arrangements in the hospitality sector ahead of October 22nd, but we would call for consideration to be given to relaxing some of these measures ahead of that date.
As vaccinations will continue to be necessary to enter venues between now and October 22nd, there is scope to allow for increased capacity in venues, removing social distancing requirements, and allowing activities that are prohibited like ordering and sitting at the bar counter. Additionally, we would call for the 11.30pm closure time to be extended.
“We welcome the return of live music in pubs, and the return of organised indoor and outdoor events from September 6th.”
Elaina Fitzgerald Kane, president of the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF), said: “We have a long road ahead of us, however, which means that continued government supports are critical in sustaining the livelihoods of Ireland’s 270,000 tourism community.”
The IHF president called for a firm commitment from the Government on the continuation of business and employment supports. “The supports to date have been very welcome and have been a lifeline for many businesses. However, it is essential that the government provides certainty around the supports into 2022 so that businesses, particularly those reliant on overseas visitors, can plan for their recovery as they face into the traditional off-peak tourist season, which in Ireland runs from September until May.”