New indoor regulations to be published by weekend

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said every effort is being made to ensure new regulations for indoor hospitality are published no later than this weekend.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Mr Varadkar said the regulations are not straight forward but are not “unduly complicated”.

He added that now the Attorney General’s office has clear instructions, they should be completed in time.

Mr Varadkar said the enforcement provisions and what documents can be accepted as proof of immunity need to be clearly set out.

However, he pointed out that many regulations have been put in place over the course of the pandemic and that this has been achieved on a number of times.

The public will enforce the rules to a certain extent, he said, by not trying to break them.

The next layer of enforcement will be the business owners, while Health and Safety Authority and environmental health officers will also have a role.

Finally, he said, gardaí may be called if members of the public try to gain access without proof of immunity or if proprietors fail to obey the rules.

Mr Varadkar said he “had no doubts “that garda representative organisations would have complaints about enforcement but the legislation allows for a “Class C'” fine.

He said that similar rules, such as mask wearing indoors, or taking names and numbers for contact tracing, have already been put in place.

“A lot of these procedures are already in place for other things. Now we’re just extending it to one new check, which is to check that somebody has a certificate of immunity.

“People can try to over complicate this, but it actually isn’t all that complicated,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said that the reopening of indoor hospitality is guided by public health advice and remains a low-risk area as all adults who will be indoors will be vaccinated.

Mr Varadkar said that the decision is in line with the National Public Health Emergency Team advise in all areas and departs from it solely by allowing unvaccinated children to enter premises along with their vaccinated parents.

He said that the Government did this as it did not want to separate parents from their children in such circumstances.

He said it had “never tried to break up a household bubble before” and because of the risks that remain to staff and others, social distancing, mask wearing, table service and table limits will all be in place.

Mr Varadkar confirmed that staff numbers manning the Digital Covid Certificate helpline have been increased from 50 to 90 due to the high volumes of calls received.

He urged only those who had specific queries in relation to a Digital Covid Certificate to contact the number, not for advice on travelling to individual countries.

He said that information on other areas is available on or the Reopeneu website and the HSE website.

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Mr Varadkar confirmed that 17,000 Digital Covid certificates have been reissued because of an error with the fada in some names.

They will be sent out in the coming days.

President Michael D Higgins yesterday signed the Health Amendment Bill into law, paving the way for the resumption of indoor hospitality from Monday.

It is understood that under the guidelines drawn up by the Indoor Hospitality Guidelines Group, there will be no limit on the length of time customers can remain in a premises.

Face coverings will have to be worn by customers moving around indoors, and digital and paper vaccine certificates will be accepted on entry.

In addition, there will be no bar service, with six people allowed to eat at a table indoors.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland RAI has called for the immediate publication of the guidelines.

RAI Chief Executive Adrian Cummins said 180,000 workers were depending on the new guidelines to allow for the safe and secure reopening of the sector.

Meanwhile, the President of the Irish Wedding Association said couples were hugely upset to hear that the number of people allowed to attend weddings next month is unlikely to increase to 100.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Tara Fay said the wedding industry has not been given any update.

She said it would be better if the Government would say that “this is not happening”, rather than leaving couples in the lurch and unable to plan with certainty.

Ms Fay said that while restaurants can have more than 50 people at one time from next Monday, numbers for weddings remain unchanged.

Most couples, and those attending weddings, are vaccinated but this has not been taken into account, she added.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, Prof Pete Lunn, from the Economic and Social Research Institute, predicted that people would remain anxious due to reports of high case numbers, and that he would “not expect a stampede” to avail of indoor hospitality next week.

He said data shows that the “it can take quite a while” for people’s behaviour to change when restrictions are lifted.

Also speaking on the same programme, the owner of Dublin’s Panti Bar and Pennylane Bar, Rory O’Neill, said it is “the best decision” for his business to wait a few more weeks before reopening indoors to allow younger staff members to get vaccinated for Covid-19.

Mr O’Neill said he will continue to operate as an outdoor-only business until then and is lucky to be able to avail of outdoor space at the weekends in the newly pedestrianised Capel Street.

He said that none of his pub staff, who are mostly aged in their 20s, raised concerns about the Covid-19 virus, but he felt he had a responsibility to take the decision for now.

He said that some businesses have been closed for 18 months and are “pulling their hair out” and have different decisions to make.

Sinn Féin’s Health spokesperson David Cullinane has said that’s he’s afraid that the safety measures around the reopening of indoor dining will be “so light-touch” that it will not work.

Mr Cullinane said: “I would have preferred if we were using testing, I would have preferred if we were putting in place all the other social distancing guidelines.”

He added: “You can jump on a plane now, if you’re lucky to get your PCR cert, you can go to London or go to a European country, go into a restaurant, go into a bar and the come home”, he said.

The latest easing of restrictions comes amid new warnings of rising number of cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.

Mr Varadkar has said that cases could peak at 3,000 or 4,000 a day before easing back.

Yesterday, the Department of Health was notified of 1,378 new cases of Covid-19.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said the latest estimate of growth rate of new cases is approximately 6% to 7% per day.

In a post on Twitter, Health Service Executive CEO Paul Reid warned that although 66% of adults are fully vaccinated and 80% are partially vaccinated, the Delta variant poses a “huge risk to this progress.”

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