Anger at new Covid restrictions: 'We’re being blamed unfairly by decision-makers'

Anger at new Covid restrictions: 'We’re being blamed unfairly by decision-makers'

Jacque Barry, co-owner of Jacques Restaurant on Oliver Plunkett St, Cork: 'Christmas used to be our big bonanza but that’s not going to be it now. Our lunch trade has been decimated because there’s no one in the offices.' Picture: Gavin Browne

The hospitality sector faced yet another blow as Government announced that nightclubs would close and public health restrictions would tighten in a bid to lower transmission of Covid-19 and control the Omicron variant.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin assured the hospitality sector the "Government would stand by" them and help them "weather this storm" by providing business supports for those impacted by any further restrictions.

Among the measures announced this evening are:

  • The closure of nightclubs from December 7 until January 9;
  • The return of a strict social distancing requirement in all bars and restaurants;
  • Table service only;
  • A one-metre distance between tables; 
  • A maximum of six adults per table;
  • No multiple table bookings;
  • A requirement that masks be worn when not at the table; 
  • And the continuation of a midnight closing time.
  • For entertainment, cultural, community and sporting events, there will be a maximum of 50% capacity, which must all be fully seated. 
  • At these events, face masks must be worn at all times unless eating or drinking.
  • Covid Passes will now also be required for gyms, leisure centres, hotel bars and restaurants.
  • Vaccine passes and 50% capacity limits do not apply to weddings, however.

Ger Kiely, owner of Cyprus Avenue music venue and the Old Oak bar in Cork City, said the mental health and economic impact of a further lockdown for his sector was very concerning.

Reverting to pre-October 22 public health measures —  the return of table service-only in bars, and six-person maximum to a table — would close Cyprus Avenue, he said.

He said Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan and his Nphet colleagues would never feel the devastating impact their decisions had on his sector.

“They’re not the ones who won’t be able to afford Christmas presents for their children," Mr Kiely said.

“They’re not the ones who have been sitting on their own for 18 months, who have had to throw their work in the bin. 

Since we reopened, we have not been notified of one [Covid] outbreak linked to Cyprus Avenue. So we’re being blamed unfairly by people making decisions who know nothing about our sector.

“And Nphet have got so much wrong already – not supporting antigen tests, not supporting masks at the start. It’s so frustrating.

“After this kick in the teeth, yet more people will leave the industry. And when things open again we’ll have lost our sound engineers, lost our lighting technicians, lost our musicians and lost our bookers."

While cuts to the Employee Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) may be reversed, reducing it in the first place had been premature, Mr Kiely said.

“We have had hugely increased labour hours and reduced capacity. it's not sustainable."

Adrian Cummins of the Restaurants Association of Ireland said maintaining and reversing cuts to business supports like the EWSS was now vital.

“The messaging in Government around reducing social activity is affecting business. We’re 80% down on normal trade and getting cancellations. That’s unsustainable.

Over Christmas, we usually see three months worth of turnover in one month.” 

Jacque Barry of Jacques Restaurant in Cork city said certain new measures, like reducing maximum table capacity to six people, would not be too big a problem for her business but it would be “tough” for larger establishments like hotels that rely on Christmas party trade.

“I’m a little apprehensive but hopefully they’ll let us stay open until 11.30pm or 12am,” she said before the Taoiseach announced that closing times would remain at midnight.

“And I hope they continue the EWSS. We’re operating at at least 30% less because we still have to do social distancing really. Christmas used to be our big bonanza but that’s not going to be it now. Our lunch trade has been decimated because there’s no one in the offices. So I do hope that they will reverse this [EWSS cut] and give us some support in terms of wages again because we don’t want to let any staff go.” 

Denis Cotter of Paradiso restaurant in Cork said that as their maximum table number was four, the mooted measure of having a maximum of six people per table with no group bookings was unlikely to impact him.

“I understand that other places are nervy and upset. But we’ve been doing that for a while and we don’t do Christmas parties, so we’re doing fine. We get some cancellations but we also have a waiting list. We’re at a reduced capacity but we’re more of less hitting it.” 

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