The lack of a system to test those entering nightclubs and other late-night venues for Covid-19 has been described as Government “negligence” by an industry representative.
Sunil Sharpe, a DJ and member of Give Us The Night which advocates for the nighttime economy, said the Government had suppressed a conversation around antigen testing and missed an opportunity to encourage those attending nightclubs to test themselves for the disease.
It comes as the Government has moved to introduce new ticketing rules for nightclubs and late-night events in pubs, saying it will aid contact tracing, amid criticism from the sector which reopened on Friday after 19 months of closure.
“I think the Government are just adding extra hurdles that are unnecessary, before the industry had a chance to even get started,” Mr Sharpe said.
“By all accounts, venues and promoters responded really well to the last minute guidelines last week, and all of them had good contact tracing systems in place.
“So why, on the back of that positive return for the industry, and all those involved, are the Government now insisting on this extra layer of... contact tracing measures on top?”
No Plan A
Mr Sharpe supported a call by publicans for a two-week grace period before the introduction of the new ticketing rules, and said clarity on how long the rules will remain in place was needed amid concern footfall from “walk-ups” will reduce.
“It's very late notice they've changed the goalposts and are now telling the whole industry that these changes could be in place for three months or more," he said.
“As a temporary measure, the industry will respond and we'll put what... is required into place, but to expect everyone to have it in place by Friday when you're only providing those guidelines the day before... that isn't enough time,” he said.
“Really, these guidelines should have been worked on from early September, from the time that that August 31st [reopening] announcement was made. That was when the planning needed to be decided.
“We all knew that Covid cases were going to go up in the winter... it appears like the Government didn't have a plan. Whatever about a plan B, they definitely didn't have a plan A in place, because they're still working on that now. The flexibility in terms of responding to the rise in Covid cases - it just wasn't there.”
Mr Sharpe also called for the introduction of rapid entry testing for those attending nightclubs, saying the current system requiring a Covid certificate proving vaccination or recent recovery from the virus was “lacking”.
“For us, the way forward to detect and prevent the spread of Covid-19 in a venue is through testing,” he said.
“Anybody who went into a venue essentially over the weekend was not being tested for whether or not they were carrying the virus... I think that that's negligent.
“I mean it's negligence of the Government to not be advocating a testing system for entry into venues. And it's our belief that a negative test should be a standalone, acceptable requirement of its own.”
Mr Sharpe said the Government had “done everything they can to suppress the conversation around testing.”
They had a great chance to encourage the public to take a test before they went to an event last weekend
“They had a great chance to encourage the public to take a test before they went to an event last weekend for instance, but they're not doing enough in terms of their public messaging to encourage the public to take a test,” he said.
“If you're vaccinated, or if you've taken a negative test, they should both be acceptable entry requirements. I think excluding people based on their vaccination status, when people would be willing to take a test, is not the road we wanted to see the Government go down with this.
“I'd like to think that we as an industry we can be proactive as well, and I think, you know, maybe we can pilot some mobile units or depots in city and town centres. We would like the Government to get behind that and lead on that,” he added.
“There are definitely more conversations to be had around testing and ventilation and overall best practices for venues, so we can reopen and remain open because the last thing anyone wants now is to have to shut again in another couple of weeks and there is a huge fear out there that that will be what happens.”
The Taoiseach said this month that work is under way to allow antigen tests to "further improve the safety of certain events and activities" such as nightclubs.