'You've got to remember, we're still not open over here'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Guests will have to show that they have received both of their Covid-19 vaccines to enter hospitality settings when the sector is allowed to reopen in Ireland, as the government has followed the National Public Health Emergency Team’s (NPHET) advice and put the measure into law.

As businesses in England are left to their own devices to decide whether or not to apply government guidance, which recommends the continued wearing of facemasks by teams and unseated guests, table service, contactless payment, as well as the use of NHS Covid Pass, Irish businesses will be mandated to verify the vaccinated status of their guests.

This will be supported by an online reporting system for the public, spot checks by the health and safety authorities, and vaccine certificates will need to be shown alongside photographic ID to prevent any fraud.

While he originally called the plan "flawed, unworkable, discriminatory and currently illegal," Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) chief Adrian Cummins approved of the decision to allow hospitality and retail to open indoors - at a yet unspecified date at the end of July, originally set for the 5th July, but delayed  - even with the reduced footfall that will naturally ensue from the youngest not having been fully vaccinated yet. 

The app championed by the Irish government is not yet operational, meaning the initial weeks may have to rely on paper certificates.  

The RAI leader told The Irish Sun: "It's not perfect but it is a step towards getting doors open. 20,000 businesses will have the opportunity to open fully and about 180,000 workers will an opportunity to come back to work."

'Let's just get what we need to be done done and we can all move on more quickly' 

Other operators seem to agree, one of them being Paul McDonald, chef owner of Bastion in Kinsale, whose restaurant has been closed for the best part of the year.

"There's a lot of pushback on it from over here," he said, "people saying it's unconstitutional or it's against their human rights - and I see their point, because it's bordering on that - but the other half of me goes, 'you know what, we're in the middle of a pandemic, so let's just get what we need to be done done and we can all move on more quickly.'" 

The reason the RAI was so positive in its initial statements about the vaccine certificates - in notable contrast with UKHospitality and other sector representatives in England - is that in Ireland, the policy has been set as the condition on which businesses are allowed to reopen. 

"You've got to remember, we're still not open over here," he said.

He noted that the RAI didn't take the proposal on board without objections, calling for negative PCR tests and antigen tests to be accounted for by any immunity verification scheme. 

"But that's not on the table," he added. "It's a vaccine certification only." 

Businesses are likely to see a reduction in footfall until everyone is fully vaccinated, however; as of Saturday 5.1 million had been administered, with 76 percent of adults having had at least one vaccine and 63 percent of adults having received both doses. The government is aiming to offer everyone over 16 a first dose of the vaccine by September.

But even with these losses, Paul sees it as worthwhile to open, because some business is better than none. 

"A lot of restaurants here are very reliant on just the summer months," he explained, so even though at Bastion, since receiving a Michelin star in the 2020 guide, he and his wife Helen Noonan have been lucky enough to have steady trade year-round, "it's all very well for me to say I'd rather wait six to eight weeks before we reopen, but a lot of restaurants just can't." 

His only concern with the scheme, given that the certification will initially be a print out, is that "people will create fake paperwork; because it's literally just a print-out of a piece of paper, you can take a snapshot of it, print it out and take it straight to the restaurant." 

What's more, he said, "there are going to be restaurants out that don't care about it and move on, because it's up to the restaurant to police it, and my feeling is that the government are going to leave it to them to manage." 

If this does happen, he said, "the numbers are going to go up, and then everyone is going to blame restaurants. The public, government and the press, they're all going to look at restaurants and go, 'we opened the restaurants and numbers went up.'" 

To avoid losing their own guests' trust, as many restaurants have here in the UK, the couple plans on maintaining social distancing and other precautions for the foreseeable in the restaurant.

"We're staying at seven tables," he said, explaining that it is not just safer but more manageable, and means that "each guest feels that much more comfortable." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 16th July 2021

'You've got to remember, we're still not open over here'