Pub and restaurant owners in Cork have reacted to the recommended clampdown on the hospitality sector by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) in response to the rise of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
NPHET has expressed concern about the impact of Covid-19 and the new variant in its latest advice to Government and has recommended early closing times for pubs and restaurants from Monday.
Cork publican Benny McCabe, who owns Crane Lane, Mutton Lane, The Oval and Sin é among others, said that a 5pm closing time would “condense more people into a fixed space and time like Cork city centre”.
He said that the recommendation from NPHET is “very questionable” and would amount to total shutdowns in rural areas where many premises only open at 3pm or 4pm.
Mr McCabe considers himself lucky as Mutton Lane has an early licence meaning he can “avoid the condensed crowds now guaranteed before 5pm if this comes to pass”.
“So, 10pm is cool with me, 9.30pm even, after all retail and hospitality are now a de facto one business, but 5pm, really?
He counselled decision makers not to put a closing time of 5pm on the industry.
If it’s that transmissible you need to shut everything down. Closing the pubs at 5pm or 11pm won’t make any difference and yes you can rely now on the science in this matter.
"For the day that’s in it try and avoid this lunacy and you might want to look at the schools,” he said.
Owner of Sage restaurant in Midleton, Kevin Aherne, said that while the recommendations are “speculative as of yet”, that he is hopeful that Government will not implement some of the leaked recommendations.
Mr Aherne has taken the decision to close over the Christmas period, shutting the doors from December 23.
“Everything is being so reduced already so if it’s reduced anymore we would just be operating at a loss.
“For the sake of everybody having time off and spending time with their family over Christmas, myself included, we took the decision."
He said that part of the decision was based on the fact of it being more important for people to spend time with their families over Christmas rather than working at a reduced rate and also on the basis of what was learned while closed over the Christmas period last year.
Speaking about the recommendations, he said that his restaurant would be just as busy at 1pm on a Sunday as it would be at 6pm and instead of telling people what they cannot do, the Government should be helping the industry along by telling them how best they can operate.
He said that restaurant owners’ relationship with the Government up until now “has been very much on thin ice” and that people will “just go left instead of right” if the Government pulls the last piece of pie away from them.
He said that dialogue between the Government and the hospitality industry needs to remain open and that people should be allowed to make their own decisions.
This is what it’s going to be like this time 12 months. We’ll probably be in the same situation with a different variant so people just have to be left to make their own decisions.
“Give them the information to make it as safe as possible and not be told they can’t do it, just being helped along with how to do it well.
“That’s what we should be doing and not telling people they can't go out but to tell them to go out but do this and do that,” he said.
Mr Aherne plans to reopen the restaurant in the second week of January, depending on restrictions at that time.
NPHET is also advocating that sporting, theatre and cultural gatherings should not take place after 5pm and that capacity should be cut to 50%, or 5,000 people, for outdoor events and has also formed the view that all large gatherings are potentially super spreaders and is advising against the holding of late night events.
In a further change, close contacts of a confirmed Covid case who have not received a booster vaccine will likely be advised to restrict their movements but current restrictions which allow people from three households to gather in the home of a fourth are not set to be tightened.
The Omicron variant now accounts for 27% of all new Covid-19 infections here, up from just 1% of new cases last week.
Following further data validation, the total number of Omicron cases confirmed through whole genome sequencing in Ireland as of December 16 has been revised down to 39 confirmed cases.
The variant is likely to become the dominant variant within a matter of days.