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Lockdown lifted but tough decisions lie ahead

Comment & Opinion

DISTANCE TO GO  Restaurants are pushing for a narrowing of the Government’s current two-metre social-distance guideline.

Many hospitality businesses say one-metre social distancing is key

MAY 18 was a date most people put in their diaries once An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the Government’s roadmap to recovery back on May 1.
It signalled light at the end of the tunnel, and after weeks of staying at home and helping in the battle against Covid-19, the public can see many starting to get their lives back to something close to normality, and they are starting to plan for when they too are allowed to do the same.
The effort that everyone has made seems to be working. The numbers dying and being infected with the disease are dropping. However, as is being reinforced time after time, we can only keep this happening by adhering to the Government’s advice for the foreseeable future.
Inevitably, as we start seeing successes in dealing with pandemic, questions start to arise. The reality is that many businesspeople are now starting to get itchy feet. They want to get back to work as soon as possible.
The suggested date for the last phase of the reopening is August 10. That is still 13 weeks away. Thirteen weeks until people who work in public houses, nightclubs, theatres, cinemas and gyms are expected to wait before they can return to work.
By that stage, the majority of summer 2020 will have passed, and thoughts will have already turned to getting children ready for a return to school. Autumn will soon on our doorstep, and with it shorter, chillier evenings.
Although the Government has attached dates to each of the five phases of lockdown removal, many hope that continued adherence to the rules by the public would ultimately be rewarded with some of those dates being brought forward if it is safe to do so.
As it now stands, businesses are looking at what they have to do to get their workplaces up and running in this new era of social distancing. A whole host of questions and issues are likely to pop up in the coming weeks.
It is crucial that the Government remains clear and concise with their information on the lifting of the restrictions over the coming months. While there is an insistence on listening to all the advice coming from the top health officials, they must also listen to business experts and take on board their views going forward. It is a delicate balance.
Consultation is needed with all the various industries before anything is agreed on and this is where dialogue is crucial.
The Government cannot afford a situation to develop where many businesses feel that it will simply not be worth their while to open their doors. As it stands, many hotel owners, restaurateurs and publicans feel that implementing social distancing at two metres per customer is not sustainable.
Elaina Fitzgerald Kane, President of the Irish Hotels Federation, has stated publicly that her industry is going to push for a social distance of one metre rather than two, in line with World Health Organisation recommendations. This is the key proposal that hoteliers want approved, and the VFI are likely lobbying hard too on behalf of publicans.
So, although we have to welcome the gradual lifting of lockdown, which began yesterday, we must also prepare ourselves for a long, hard summer of negotiations before we can see life returning to something resembling normal.
Tough decisions have to be taken over the next few months, but one thing is for sure, we cannot let businesses stay closed for any longer than is absolutely necessary.