PUBLICANS in Cork say that maintaining the restrictions around table service will result in “major capacity issues” over the jazz weekend.
Yesterday, the Government announced that while remaining elements of the hospitality, entertainment, and night-time economy sector can reopen from October 22, they could only do so with the full range of protective measures in place and the wide and robust implementation of the Covid-19 pass.
Social distancing, Covid certificates, and table service will continue in restaurants and bars.
The announcement followed the Government’s consideration of the latest advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) as the number of new infections, the number of people requiring hospitalisation, and the number of patients in intensive care have all increased.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said yesterday that the relevant public health statistics “tell us a story that we need to listen to” and that the increasing figures are “a cause of concern”.
The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) said the news that pubs must continue with mandatory table service while not permitting customers to sit or stand at the bar counter, until next February at the earliest, is a devastating blow to a sector that was expecting to see all restrictions removed this week.
The VFI said maintaining restrictions will result in further pub closures as mandatory table service significantly reduces capacity in venues.
Cork City chair of the VFI and owner of the Castle Inn on South Main St, Michael O’Donovan, said that the continued measures being placed on pubs are affecting the mental health of those employed in the industry.
“We’ve seen it with the information that was released over the weekend about 37 bars closed in Cork,” said Mr O’Donovan.
He said it is now very hard to plan for the upcoming jazz festival when pub owners still only have the bones of what they can and cannot do.
“You’re also looking at cash flow, you’re looking at expenses, people have loans and mortgages and it’s getting stressful because this is going on now 18 months, and we appreciate public health is paramount but business owners are going through a really tough time at the moment.”
He said that there will also be “major capacity issues” over the weekend as table service remains in place but welcomed the increase from six people to 10 people at a table.
Director and manager of Dwyers of Cork, Chris Weldon, echoed Mr O’Donovan’s comments and said that the capacity issue will “massively impact” their jazz festival plans.
“Jazz was kind of the reward for the last 18 months of opening and closing and, to be fair to Diageo, they met with us last week to give us their assurances that they’d still be going ahead with it even if the announcement was bad, so from our standpoint, we’re still going to be putting music on in the venue because we’re allowed and we’re just going to do our best, that’s all we can do now,” said Mr Weldon.
He saidthe closure of both Cork Airport and Kent Station had made the work of securing bands for the festival more difficult but that they look forward to a line-up of real jazz that will “give the punters coming in for that music what they’re looking for”.
He said that deliveries of stock had to be cancelled since the announcement and staff will miss out on work but that he never thought the October 22 easing of measures would happen.
“When you go on the way the Government has always done it, they’ve never been scared to act and they’ve always acted quite severely, as far as I’m concerned.”
General manager of the West Cork Hotel, Skibbereen, Barry Looney, welcomed the fact that there is no limit to wedding guest numbers but said that the hotel will continue to operate with an element of caution to protect the team.
“We’re worried here about our team because at what cost do you run an event now with there being such a shortage of labour; protecting them is the most important thing at the moment and making sure that they’re safe, because one event could make you lose people for two weeks,” said Mr Looney. “It just doesn’t make any sense.
“We’re lucky we have a very big function room here so we will be able to accommodate larger numbers but I can’t see us going to a max capacity of 400 where we were before, we’ll hit somewhere in the middle there that we’ll cap off with people to offer space and to do it safely.”
Mr Looney also welcomed the enhanced role of antigen testing.
The Government also announced that for indoor live music, drama, live entertainment, and sporting events, audiences and spectators should be fully seated, while Covid-19 passes and fixed capacity limits will not apply for outdoor events.
Specific sectoral guidance will be developed for nightclubs, setting out appropriate protective measures.
Under the latest guidance, religious services and weddings can proceed without capacity limits but with all other protective measures remaining in place.
However, Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Dr Paul Colton, said on social media that continuing social distancing will, effectively, mean that many of the church buildings in the United Dioceses of Cork, Cloyne and Ross would not be able to accommodate any more people at services than they do under current restrictions, despite the lifting of capacity limits.
A spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Cork and Ross said churches will continue to abide by restrictions.
“Churches will continue to welcome people to Mass and other liturgies,” they said.
“Care for all who visit the churches of the diocese will continue to be paramount.
“Parish volunteers continue to sanitise churches, and all public health advice will be followed.”
Advocate for older people, Paddy O’Brien, said that the return to full capacity at religious services is welcome news for many senior citizens, and said that it is an important part of routine for many.
“That was part of their weekly routine and for many of the elderly people during that 18-month period, a great number of their problems were caused by the fact that they couldn’t go to Mass,” said Mr O’Brien.
“Elderly people are very spiritual and Mass is very important to them.
“They have a very strong faith but it is also more than a Mass. After the Mass, they can sit around and have a chat, go for a cup of coffee, and talk about the news and it’s a real social event.”
The Government also announced that a return to workplaces will continue on a phased and cautious basis for specific business requirements.
The announcement was welcomed by Fórsa.
“Remote working is working for most staff and employers, so there was no objective reason to accelerate the return to workplaces at a time when all the main Covid indicators are pointing the wrong way,” said the union’s head of communications Bernard Harbor.