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Ireland turns to vaccine passes to reopen its hospitality industry


People enjoy drinking Guinness outside a pub in Dublin city center. On Monday, 05 July 2021, in Dublin, Ireland.

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DUBLIN — Despite the spread of the highly-contagious delta coronavirus variant, Ireland is betting on “vaccine passes” to fully reopen its bars and restaurants.

Ireland’s tourism and hospitality trade has been dealing with stop-and-starts on reopening throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Indoor service resumed on July 26 in something of a photo finish with the government and the hospitality industry finalizing guidelines for the reopening on that very morning. This included final tweaks to restaurants’ contact-tracing requirements.

The key differentiator this time around is that restaurants and bars may only open their doors for fully-vaccinated people, or people that have recovered from Covid-19 in the last six months. Outdoor seating will remain available for all punters.

The big test for businesses will be managing these checks on customers’ vaccination status.

The primary means of proving vaccination will be through the EU’s Digital Covid Certificate, the same document that Europe is pinning its hope on for reviving tourism in the continent.

Restaurants and bars will be expected to scan the QR code on the certificate and check a customer’s ID to verify they are fully vaccinated.

Noel Anderson is managing director of Dublin restaurants Lemon & Duke and The Bridge 1859, and is also chair of trade body the Licensed Vintners Association.

He told CNBC that in the first days of reopening, customers are still opting for outdoor seating over indoors but his staff have been trained in the new protocols, especially as the summer weather fades.

“I firmly believe within two or three weeks it will settle and this will be just the norm. Hopefully it won’t be the norm for too long,” he said.

He and many other hospitality businesses were opposed to the requirement for vaccine checks at the door.

“At the end of the day this was a government initiative. This wasn’t driven by the pubs, in fact the LVA, which I’m chairperson of, we didn’t want this,” he said. 

“You either want to stay closed until September and beyond or this is how you open. When you’ve got members who are closed [for over a year], you’ve no real choice but to take it.”

Data protection

The requirement for proof of vaccination to enter a premises has attracted some criticism with claims it will be discriminatory to the unvaccinated, while so-called vaccine passes or passports can also be tricky initiatives to put in place from a data protection and security perspective.

A spokesperson for Ireland’s Data Protection Commission said that hospitality businesses need to be cautious of the amount of data they are collecting and processing and to delete information that isn’t necessary.

“Owners/operators should not keep a record that identifies named persons and details of their vaccinations, or copies of any certificates or identification documents, as this is not required to meet their compliance obligations,” the DPC said.

Processing personal data must be “justified on the basis of necessity and proportionality,” it said.

“The DPC has also made it clear that Covid-related legislation must be time bound and limited to the duration of the pandemic by way of sunset clauses, as a safeguard to prevent the processing of personal data in an excessive and disproportionate manner.”

Ireland won’t be an outlier in Europe for long when it comes to vaccine passes in the hospitality industry with France and Italy introducing similar requirements for entering bars, restaurants and cafes. 

Cautious approach

Not every bar and restaurant is eager to reopen their indoor service. Pantibar, a popular gay bar in Dublin, has opted to keep doors closed on indoor service as most of its young staff are still not fully vaccinated.

Barry McNerney, another restaurateur, told CNBC that his restaurants, Juniors and Paulie’s Pizza, are not racing to reopen indoors just yet.

“I don’t know if there’s an awful lot of demand for indoor dining. A lot of places have a young clientele, a lot of them wouldn’t be vaccinated so they can’t actually eat inside.”

McNerney has decided to wait and see how other businesses handle the new protocols and vaccine checks before diving in.

“We’re seeing how other operators get on and then find out from them what the logistical challenges are.”

Growing Covid case numbers in Ireland still loom over many businesses despite the gradual reopening of the economy. Case numbers have steadily risen in recent weeks, driven by the delta variant, with average daily numbers above 1,000.

The further reopening of hospitality services has drawn criticism with the moves compared to the staggering surge in cases in late December when restrictions were loosened for Christmas, which ultimately led to lockdown measures well into the spring.

A crucial difference to the Christmas surge is that Ireland’s vaccine rollout is moving at pace, after a sputtering start early in the year. As of Friday, 3.2 million people had received at least one dose of the vaccine with 2.4 million double-dosed. The vaccination program recently moved on to under-18s.

 





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