Indoor dining Q&A: What exactly is being delayed and when will it reopen?

Concern about spread of Delta variant derails plan to reopen indoor pubs, resturants

The full reopening of restaurants and pubs is being delayed then?
Yes, indoor dining and drinking was set to get the go ahead from July 5th but concern about the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19 means that that plan has been derailed.

What did the Government say?
Speaking on the steps of Government Buildings, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the clear advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) was that indoor dining should be restricted to people who were fully-vaccinated to limit the spread of Covid-19 at a time of highly-infectious variants. "We are in a race between variants and vaccines and we want to do everything we can to make sure the vaccine wins," Mr Martin said. He acknowledged there would be disappointment in the hospitality industry about the decision but the Government was committed to a practical and workable approach.

So, they will re-open again on July 19th?
No, there was speculation that the delay would be for two weeks but now the Cabinet has decided to postpone the full reopening of the hospitality sector until there is a workable plan for how customers can prove they have been vaccinated.

Only the vaccinated will be allowed into pubs? That's new isn't it?
Yes, The Government had not been planning to introduce such a system and sources have suggested that developing the plan will be a major undertaking. The idea is that it will all come together by July 19th but a decision is not being made today on when indoor services can reopen.


How might such a plan work?
Well, there are options on the table. By July 19th more than half the adult population will have been fully vaccinated. The simplest way to introduce such a system – if it was to happen then – would see people asked to produce their vaccine certificate – the card they are given by their GP or at a vaccination centre – and another form of ID. Alternatively the system could adopt a similar approach to the Digital Covid Cert. Details of the would-be diner's status would be held on a smartphone app.

How will they know my status?
Well, if they were to replicate the DCC model adults who have received a Covid-19 vaccine or have recently recovered from the virus would not have to apply for a Covid Cert but will have it emailed to them. According to the Government, data has been carefully gathered all the way through the vaccination stage and stored in the CoVax system which the Health Service Executive has been using to keep track of who has been vaccinated and who has tested positive in the past nine months.

Any other plans out there?
Well, there was a suggestion that the Government should just issue advice to unvaccinated people asking them not to dine or drink indoors.

And would that work?
Based on all the evidence that we have seen of late, that doesn't seem likely really.

Would the staff have to be vaccinated?
That is certainly an issue. The reality is that many – if not the vast majority – of people who work in the hospitality sector are younger and in the cohort that may not yet be vaccinated. Fianna Fail senator – and young person – Lisa Chambers was quick to point out a potential discrepancy to the plan. "So if younger unvaccinated people won't be allowed to eat and drink indoors, I assume younger and unvaccinated people won't be allowed to work indoors in hospitality? May as well be consistent with how we treat young people or is having fun the differentiating factor," she said on Twitter.

Has it been done elsewhere?
In March Israel opened restaurants, bars and cafes to those who had been vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19. The so-called "green pass" holders at the time accounted for about 40 per cent of the population. They were invited to apply online after which the pass was sent to their phones. Participating establishments could then scan QR codes or check the paperwork manually. State issued identification in the form of an ID card, a passport or a driver's licence was also checked.

And how did it work?
It was discontinued at the start of June. There was a lot of concern about it there.

What is happening across the EU?
Indoor dining has partially reopened in most of Europe . Customers show proof of vaccination or a negative test on entry to restaurants and bars in many countries, including Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, parts of Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, and Slovenia. Restrictions on pubs are often tougher than on restaurants, with indoor service banned for establishments that don't serve food in Croatia and Romania.

And is Ireland still planning to resume international travel on July 19th?
As it stands yes. People from other EU countries who have been vaccinated, recovered from Covid or with a PCR test will be able to visit.

Will visitors be able to go to the pub?
The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that in some countries visitors entering from abroad will have a QR code and technology is in place to allow any smart phone to scan it and verify if the person has a Digital Covid Certificate.

What about families? Will unvaccinated children have to stand out in the rain while their vaccinated parents dine like kings and queens?
That is unclear. According to Mr Donnelly that is just one of the many questions that remains unanswered.

What has the hospitality sector said?
To say it is fuming would be an understatement The Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) said any such proposed system would be "unworkable and not legal" and it accused Nphet of acting counter to democracy. The Vintners Federation of Ireland called in "ridiculous and unworkable" and accused Nphet of "losing the run of itself" The LVA said that allowing only vaccinated people to use indoor dining and pubs would lead to "increased stress, anxiety and cost for a sector that is already on its knees."

Has anybody else had anything to say?
The World Health Organisation's special envoy on Covid-19, Dr David Nabarro expressed caution about using vaccination as a factor to decide if people should be allowed to dine indoors. He said the WHO would be nervous about such an approach as it could lead to inequality. He said "access to vaccines is so unequal in our world, and I don't want anything to happen that increases the inequalities. If you use vaccine status as a requirement for entry to something, you're also blocking out an awful lot of people from having any chance of participating."

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast