Indoor dining in restaurants and cafes resumes today for the first time since last December, with many pubs not having opened their doors since March last year when Covid restrictions came into effect.
People who are fully vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months will be allowed to avail of indoor hospitality, along with accompanied minors.
Contact tracing is now only required for the lead person at a table and for solo customers under new updated guidelines, which were agreed last night.
Restaurants Association of Ireland Chief Executive Adrian Cummins said another change is that designated tables have been removed.
“This means businesses don’t have to keep a record of what table a party sat at – we only heard about these updated guidelines through an email at ten past midnight this morning.”
Businesses that reopen will also be able to avail of the three-week double payment of the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme.
Health officials have urged people to embrace the reopening safely. Health Service Executive CEO Paul Reid asked people to “make it work”.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue said the success of the vaccination programme has put the country in a very different space, but the Government will be guided by public health advice at all times.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he said every step that is being taken is with the objective of keeping services open and the country will continue to go forward with a cautious, but certain approach.
The minister paid tribute to the tremendous engagement of the hospitality sector with the Government.
He also said he understands that certificates given to people who have been vaccinated in Northern Ireland, will be compatible with the app being used by pubs and restaurants in the Republic.
Vintners’ Federation of Ireland CEO Padraig Cribben has welcomed the changes that were made to the contact tracing element of the guidelines.
Speaking on the same programme, he said it has been almost 500 days since some businesses were able to open and while there is a lot of relief in the industry, there is also a lot of anxiety.
He urged people to work with publicans and stick to the public health guidelines, and said he did not accept that the spread of Covid-19 over Christmas was as a result of indoor dining and alcohol.
Mr Cribben added that he is still waiting to see the regulation in respect of vaccination certificates for people from the US, UK and Northern Ireland, and there is “quite an amount of work still to be done”.
VFI President Paul Moynihan, who runs his family pub in Donard, Co Wicklow, said: “The reopening of indoor hospitality marks the end of an extremely challenging 16-month period that began on 15 March 2020 when all pubs were instructed to close in the face of the advancing pandemic.
“It’s only fair that pubs with no outdoor space are allowed reopen. While outdoor trading has been a success for some publicans, reopening indoors gives businesses a chance to make ends meet.”
The owner of Conway’s Corner House in Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim, which has been closed since March last year, apart from two weeks last autumn, said he was looking forward to welcoming his customers back.
However, Joe Gunning said he has mixed feelings about some of the Government guidelines and it would be “better” if the Government came up with something that was easier to manage.
Meanwhile, the Restaurants Association of Ireland said it expects that a quarter of Irish businesses will not reopen for indoor dining immediately, because they are unwilling to operate under the latest guidelines.
Among them is Volpe Nera in Blackrock, Dublin. General manager Darren D’Arcy said they took the decision to keep just outdoor dining “a number of weeks ago”.
The Department of Health yesterday confirmed 1,126 new cases of Covid-19. There are 123 people in hospital, up 18 from the day before, and 22 people in ICU.
In Northern Ireland, 1,264 new Covid cases were reported along with two deaths in past 24 hours.
Over 5.5 million vaccines have been administered in the country, with 83% of the eligible population now partially vaccinated and over 68% fully vaccinated.