Aoife Moore: Anomalies abound in reopening guidelines

Confusion, incoherence and chaos abound with just days to go before nightclubs reopen 
Aoife Moore: Anomalies abound in reopening guidelines

Booking events manager Eoin Aherne with posters of his bookings for the jazz weekend at Cypress Avenue in Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

It has become the calling card of this Government to stress personal responsibility for everyone but themselves and Tuesday was no different.

The much-anticipated bad news day was upon us, the announcement that we would not be able to reopen society as planned.

Of course, plans change in a pandemic. Irish people know that better than most, and we've come to prepare ourselves that roadmaps and plans may always be altered as the public health situation changes, but what we should be allowed to expect, as the bare minimum, is clarity.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy characterised the Government's latest announcement as a moment of "confusion, incoherence and chaos" and that was being kind.

Two days before they are due to open, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the nation nightclubs are back, but not as they were previously thought to be, and with very little clear guidance to move forward.

Anomalies

"I am stressing that there will be anomalies," he said, and by God he was right.

Vaccinated revellers can now pack onto a dance floor, maskless and sweating, but must put their mask on when they're not eating or drinking or to go to the toilet.

As Catherine Murphy put it: "You can dance but you can’t go to the bar for a drink... but you can probably dance to the bar".

“What traditionally happens in a nightclub will happen in a nightclub," the Taoiseach said, without a hint of doubt that he might not be fully informed about the running or operating of a nightclub in 2021, let alone what happens in there.

All jokes about eating the face off each other aside, most of us would venture that any guidelines that included rules around eating in nightclubs, were almost certainly written by someone who has not been in a nightclub in a very long time.

Perhaps it might have been easier to use guidelines some of us would be used to, girls on one side, boys on the other and a stony-faced nun brandishing a ruler, ensuring we're keeping a respectful distance. Always leaving room for the Holy Spirit.

Now we're told different sectors may have different rules and they'll be published in due course. When? We're not sure, and as there are two days left before reopening, it will be at short notice.

Confusing and unclear

The press conference was confusing and unclear, with the same rhetoric we've become accustomed to.

"The overall point is that we must double down, collectively, as a society, in terms of protecting ourselves, in terms of how we behave in different contexts, in different areas, and that will be challenging in some situations," Mr Martin said.

Telling a sector and its workers they must "double down", 18 months after they have been closed to protect public health is almost as tone-deaf as expecting people to socially distance in a nightclub.

It might have been better to be honest with the public, and state from the outset that a lot of this will not be based on the science.

A packed dance floor is no different from letting people sit at a bar counter, yet one will go ahead and the other won't.

 Booking events manager Eoin Aherne with four of the 100 staff who are looking forward to working at the jazz festival at Cyprus Avenue in Cork. Included are Aaron O'Neill, Roger Escriba, Talita Rodrigues and Francisco Bueno. Picture: Dan Linehan
Booking events manager Eoin Aherne with four of the 100 staff who are looking forward to working at the jazz festival at Cyprus Avenue in Cork. Included are Aaron O'Neill, Roger Escriba, Talita Rodrigues and Francisco Bueno. Picture: Dan Linehan

Nightclubs can pack their dance floors, but it appears standing gigs are now off.

The Taoiseach stressed that vaccine certificates must continue to play a role in the reopening, and will continue until February 2022.

The Government has called on businesses and venues to be stricter with their Covid certificate enforcement while doing very little to ensure this happens at all. 

Responsibility has been left with cash-strapped and understaffed business owners, with little enforcement and somehow ministers are left scratching their heads when it appears anecdotally that not everyone is playing the game.

We're informed the reason we're hitting the brakes on reopening is not just about hospital capacity, the health service being at risk "is not a correct assessment," according to Mr Martin. It was put to him that Sweden, which has twice our population and looser restrictions, has only about 500 cases a day and about 20 people in ICU.

Weather driving people indoors

At one point the Taoiseach suggested climate might be a factor, with colder weather driving people indoors. As if Sweden doesn't get cold in winter.

There was much talk about the "behaviour of the virus," like the virus decides how it will behave depending on which country it's in, and not that Government itself should be required to plan for all eventualities.

There was always a chance Covid cases could rise again and restrictions may not be able to go ahead as planned, but the idea that the Government and all its well-paid advisers didn't sit down and plan for such an eventuality before Tuesday morning is stark.

Personal responsibility works both ways and asking a mostly vaccinated public to "double down" further while being crowded on to crowded public transport, to use crowded shops and head back into work as pandemic unemployment benefits continue to reduce while having very little forward planning regarding the running of the country, is exhausting.

The issue around nightclubs may have dominated the day, but the reality for workers is that managers across the country will not be able to say with certainty that all jobs will return. The lack of clarity means orders may be paused, rotas changed and shifts being cancelled.

Gigs may be scrapped

Gigs which were planned under the previous roadmap may be scrapped with 72 hours' notice while the Department of Arts released a statement saying they "understand that there are some clarifications and anomalies which need to be worked through and will be engaging with the Department of An Taoiseach, sectoral and other stakeholders over the coming hours and days to find resolutions to any issues which may arise."

The Government has had many days and hours to consider the possible outcomes of Covid-19, with expert modelling and public health officials on hand.

The nightlife sector has been given about 60 hours to decide whether it is worth their while reopening at all, as confusion reigns supreme.

No one expects smooth sailing during a pandemic, but basic clarity and some respect for those who have been left high and dry might make it easier for them if they ever want to get into a nightclub again.

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