Draft guidelines on reopening “wet” pubs in Ireland are so restrictive many may question whether they will have to stay closed, one industry body has warned.
The bleak assessment from the Licensed Vintners Association came after the proposals were circulated to the sector on Sunday.
The measures are broadly in line with the guidance that accompanied the reopening of bars that served food at the end of June.
Non-food pubs are still awaiting the green light to reopen, but the Government has signalled a desire to set a date in the coming weeks.
Further details are set to be included in a new national plan for dealing with the virus, which is due to be published on September 14.
Measures outlined in the 25-page guidance document drawn up by the Government, in conjunction with tourism body Failte Ireland, include bans on counter service and people sitting at bars.
It was circulated to publicans on a weekend that saw health official voice concerns about rising cases of Covid-19 in Dublin.
Under the draft guidance, which has been seen by the PA news agency, table service will be mandatory in all licensed premises and alcohol can only be served to 11.30pm.
The guidelines encourage a reduction of seating within premises and two metre social distancing between tables.
This can be reduced to one metre if additional infection control steps are introduced.
However, customers will be limited to a 105 minute stay in premises where the one metre measure is in operation.
Only six people can be at any one table and they must not come from more than three households.
Face coverings must be worn by staff who engage with customers, unless protective screens are in place.
Strict queuing systems for the toilets must be introduced and pubs are urged to discourage the use of cash for transactions.
Staff must record and retain the details of one person in each group of customers for 28 days for Covid-19 contact tracing purposes.
Donall O’Keeffe, chief executive of the LVA, an organisation that represents publicans in Dublin, said: “These new guidelines will place a huge restriction on the normal way of doing business for pubs.
“Not being able to use the bar counter with table service only is very significant and will really limit the non-food pubs.
“There is also a real emphasis on social distancing throughout the guidelines.
“There will be questions over whether or not many of the pubs still closed will be able to open with these guidelines.
“They are far from ideal, but given that these pubs have been closed for six months we guess this is the price we will have to pay.”
The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, which represents 4,000 publicans across the country, also raised concerns.
However, VFI chief executive Padraig Cribben said publicans would find ways to make the rules work.
“The guidelines as presented will be onerous for our members to implement but at this stage publicans are desperate to open so will find a way to make them work,” he said.
“We’ve seen restaurants and pubs serving food successfully trade over the past eight weeks so the pathway is there for the remainder of pubs to follow.
“Huge challenges remain for the trade, not least making socially distanced pubs a success.
“Right now, we need clarity and certainty on when our members will be allowed open.
“The guidelines are only useful when we get that opening date.
“Ireland is the last country in Europe where pubs remain shut.
“Covid cases do occur in pubs, just like other sectors of society, but they are dealt with by closing the bar for a period of time.
“It’s clear from European countries that sector-wide lockdowns are not required.
“We need to learn to live alongside the virus.
“Opening pubs is part of that process.”
There were 138 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 reported in Ireland on Sunday.
On Saturday, the number was 231.
Of the weekend cases, 201 were in the Dublin area.
The rise in cases in the capital prompted a warning from acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn for people in the city to minimise their social contacts.
In response to the increase in infections, the HSE opened two new pop-up testing facilities in the city, at Croke Park and at Castleknock Health Centre.
There were no further deaths linked to the virus reported over the weekend, with Ireland’s death toll remaining at 1,777.