On March 3, I spoke to Irish expats in Israel who were looking forward to enjoying a pint indoors for the first time in months. Israel introduced a green pass system to allow businesses to reopen for those who had received the Covid-19 jab. Other countries followed suit. The system hasn’t been without its problems, and in ways it has undermined the narrative that we’re all in this together.
Now, on June 29, one week before thousands of restaurants and pubs were due to reopen – some for the first time in over a year – the Irish Government and Nphet have delayed the process by at least two weeks so they can come up with a plan to introduce vaccine certificates, as if it is some sort of novel idea. If publicans and restaurateurs didn’t feel like politicians and health officials were conspiring against them before, they certainly will now.
The World Health Organisation has repeatedly warned how new strains of coronavirus are inevitable. Yet our leaders are acting like the Delta variant snuck up behind them in a white sheet and shouted ‘boo’ last week.
The fact they are only toying with the idea of allowing vaccinated people indoors now speaks volumes about their level of respect for the hospitality sector – and young people.
This is something which should have been thought out months ago and there is simply no excuse for it. Pubs and restaurants were promised back in late April that they could open on July 5. That left a window of two months to get as many people vaccinated as possible and to iron out any potential problems. Yet here we are.
As someone who is 31 years of age, it’s likely I won’t get a vaccine before the end of July. My boyfriend, who is 35, has just registered for his. So if vaccine passes are introduced and our local pub down the road reopens, I won’t be able to join him for a drink. Obviously there are bigger problems at play than me being able to have a gin and tonic indoors, but this is the headache that the Government faces.
Irish society would essentially be split into the jabbed and jabless. Vaccine-hesitant people will be punished for having concerns. Yellow-vest protests are probably being planned as we speak.
On the face of it, vaccine passports make sense as they could offer the quickest way to reopen the economy and get society going again. The reality is far less straightforward. The real question is: why is Nphet only proposing this now?
Employment law solicitor Richard Grogan says this is a “classic case of the Government and Nphet not thinking anything through”.
“If you’re only going to allow vaccinated people to experience indoor dining, you can only have them served by people who are vaccinated,” he told the Independent.ie. “The reality is that can’t happen as you’re going to be limited to waiters and waitresses who are between 40 and 60 years of age. This is Nphet reacting to what the Data Protection Commissioner came out with last week, about how you can’t ask people if they’re vaccinated going into the workplace.”
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan hasn’t exactly been discreet when it comes to voicing his concerns about alcohol and Covid-19.
On May 29, he tweeted: “Absolutely shocked at scenes in South Great George’s St, Exchequer St, South William St area. Enormous crowds, like a major open air party. This is what we do not need when we have made so much progress.”
This event occurred just before pubs and restaurants opened for outdoor service, and hotels for indoor service. It’s likely that vaccine passes will simply push more young people onto Ireland’s streets over the summer. As my colleague Katie Byrne excellently put it: “Perhaps officials could be a little bit clearer about what an outdoor summer entails. Is it that it’s okay to gather en masse in Sandycove with the dryrobe brigade, but not in St Stephen’s Green with a bag of cans?”
Perhaps officials could also be clearer about why it’s okay to drink inside a hotel, but not inside a rural pub. Nphet’s warning that the Delta variant could infect thousands by August is concerning, but data from other countries suggests it hasn’t led to an increase in hospitalisations among young people, while vaccine protection against the strain remains high.
Ireland paid a huge price after reopening society at Christmas. We have all suffered significant financial and personal loss in the last 15 months. The difference this time is four million vaccine doses have been administered and the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 is extremely low. People can currently go to the cinema, gym, mass and a hotel without proof of a vaccine.
The truth is, this decision feels less about health and safety, and more about a negative attitude towards Ireland’s drinking culture.
Once again, young people and the hospitality sector have been left behind.