'I don't know how any business can survive': Cork VFI chair calls for one metre social distancing to be implemented

'I don't know how any business can survive': Cork VFI chair calls for one metre social distancing to be implemented
Cork City VFI chairperson Michael O'Donovan.Picture: David Keane.

Cork city chairperson of the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) has called for the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines of one metre social distancing to be implemented upon the reopening of pubs in phase five of the Government’s roadmap for reopening society and business.

Michael O’Donovan who owns The Castle Inn on South Main Street in the city said that the lack of clarity from the Department of Health on social distancing makes it “really difficult for the hospitality sector to make plans”.

He said that the sector “needs pointers” from the Government so pub owners can do what needs to be done ahead of reopening in August.

It comes after a report published by the VFI and Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) found that capacities in pubs, bars and restaurants will drop to as little as one eighth of pre Covid-19 levels under the HSE social distancing guidelines.

Both the VFI and LVA have said they will abide by the public health guidance issued by the Government, as they have done since the beginning of the current Covid-19 crisis but members have expressed concerns about viability upon reopening their doors.

The Castle Inn, Cork city.
The Castle Inn, Cork city.

Speaking to The Echo, Mr O’Donovan said that consultancy engineers who compiled the report, Knapton Consulting Engineers, found that an area able to hold 200 people would be down to 25 people with two metre social distancing implemented.

“That’s a huge loss, that’s an 87.5% loss of people in that area. Even if you had 100 people in that area seated, it would be down to 34 people which is a 66% loss and I don’t know any business that can survive like that.

“If it was one metre social distancing, those figures change, the 200 people would go to 100 and 100 seated people would go to 65 which is only a 35% loss so that would make it more viable to open,” he said.

He said that the current two metre social distancing guidelines will make it difficult for pubs as whole no matter what size because “larger pubs have bigger overheads and if they’re down in numbers they’re making a loss”.

Owner of An Spailpín Fánach and VFI member John O’Connor said that with two metre social distancing in place he would be looking at cutting customer numbers from the 400 that the pub can hold at any one given time to 60.

“It wouldn’t be feasible for us to open at all under the current situation with social distancing. Your costs are the same, your mortgage, your rates, you’re still paying the same rates so there's no way it would be feasible.

An Spailpín Fánach, Cork city.
An Spailpín Fánach, Cork city.

“Let’s say I’m allowed 60 people into the pub. My 60 people are in and then four of my regulars come to the door, what am I going to do then? That’s my biggest worry,” he said.

He said that people go to the pub “for a bit of music and a bit of craic and banter and to socialise” and that the prospect of having no music “is a joke in a pub”.

“Mine is a music pub so I couldn’t operate without music. There’s going to be some twist and turns before August but I’m confident that things will go back to normal,” he said.

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