A Sligo restaurateur has accused public health officials of driving a “nail in the coffin” of the industry after the renewed wave of Covid-19 infections led to the reintroduction of public health restrictions on the hospitality industry last week. The closing time of all bars, restaurants and nightclubs has been changed to midnight, with all customers required to have vacated the premises by then. Normal opening hours had resumed on October 22, after an extended period of time when the closing time was set at 11:30 PM, but that has now been effectively undone. Anthony Gray, (main photo) the owner of restaurant Eala Bhán and Hooked on Rockwood Parade in Sligo, said comments from Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Tony Holohan, in which he urged workers to cut social ties and not plan Christmas parties, had adverse effects on the industry. “I heard Dr Holohan say, ‘Please don’t chat at Christmas.’ That just puts a nail in the coffin of the restaurants,” Mr Gray told the Sligo champion. “All these things, it sends a shockwave through the Christmas bookings in terms of parties and stuff. It’s very difficult. “There has been a huge drop in reservations in the last three days. We were told, ‘If you open, you stay open’, and that is now in my opinion not the case. I do think there should be more clarity from the government. “Without these mixed messages, it is difficult enough to do business. The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is in control, but they are on the right, the government on the left and they don’t talk much.” Modeling from NPHET revealed that Ireland is on track for about 200,000 cases of Covid-19 by December.However, in a clear warning to those seeking a return to normalcy of a pre-pandemic holiday season, said Dr. Holohan last week said those numbers could double if action is not taken to reduce the spread of the virus. The CMO told RTE News at One that two percent, or 20 of every 1,000 cases, will be hospitalized. “That’s a lot of people in the hospital, possibly 4,000 or more,” he added. Fergal Quinn, who along with his brother Kevin Quinn Jr runs Acushla Limited, a catering group that operates the Embassy Steakhouse, Lola Montez and The Belfry Bar in Sligo Town, believes businesses in Sligo will be punished when the epicenter of the spread is in Ireland somewhere else. “I think a lot of these restrictions come in to some of the scenes you see in clubs in Dublin.” In Sligo and similar sized cities, it’s nowhere near that. “You don’t get huge queues for nightclubs in Sligo,” said Mr Quinn , adding that he has serious doubts about the effectiveness of the latest measures. “Do I think that closing at 12 noon will make a huge difference to the Covid numbers? I really can’t see how it will. Time will tell. “We’re going to miss out on sales, there’s no question about that, because there’s no doubt it’s going to have an effect on the number of people going out. If people continue their normal habits of going out at 9pm or 10pm and you close at 12 noon, then you close pretty much 50 percent of overnight trading.” We hope some people will go out earlier and you won’t run into that cut, maybe it’ll be just 20 or 25 percent.” Mr Gray expressed his frustration ie that the success of the vaccination program is not reflected in the level of restrictions currently imposed. “You have to ask yourself whether we are really moving forward with this pandemic. You have vaccinated 94 percent of the population and spent billions on HSE services and we still have only a few hundred ICU beds for a population of five million. You can’t run a country where nothing moves forward and the only option is a lockdown,” he said. The restaurant owner, who is also an ambassador for the Sligo Food Trail and former chairman of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, said the uncertainty is taking its toll on his staff, despite firm expectations of further restrictions in the coming weeks. “I believe this is the first tranche of closures. Then it will be something else and then something else. “If we knew in advance, it wouldn’t be so bad. It is very difficult to run a business with total uncertainty. Employees ask me: ‘What is going on, are we going to close or not be shut down?’ “It’s not fair to the staff at Christmas. I mean, retaining staff is hard enough when we have complete security. “There has been a palpable fear since three days ago when the first announcements were made. You can even feel it on the street. Customers ask, ‘Well, Anthony, guess what, are you being shut down?’ And that’s terrible. We’re going – I suspect – to a new lockdown, probably before Christmas, which is ridiculous given that 94 percent of the population has been vaccinated. “It’s time we live with this and learn how to move on with our lives. You can’t just keep opening and closing companies. An awful lot of these cases come from schools. People are afraid to say that, but it’s the truth. “Why not address that problem before shutting down the economy? You can’t keep opening and closing the economy, it just doesn’t work.” Mr Quinn also acknowledged the impact on staff, saying the lack of public trust is undermining the hospitality industry at a crucial time of year for trade.
Quinn also acknowledged the impact on staff, saying the lack of public trust is undermining the hospitality industry at a crucial time of year for commerce.
“We have canceled a few games. A today and a few business functions too. The staff who work for the big companies are told, ‘No staff parties,’ said Mr Quinn.
“It’s all about trust. I was there today talking to a local car dealer. He wouldn’t have a huge staff, but even the staff themselves would be more comfortable in smaller groups.
“One of my friends is a tour operator and he said his questions fell off a cliff this week.
“We pack chickens and deer and it’s only when these restrictions come that people start asking, ‘When the lockdown comes, can I get my money back?’ Like I said, it’s all about trust.
“Two weeks ago, we were pretty sure we were going to have a Christmas. We’re not breaking any records, but trading went well. I still have optimistic hopes that we will have a Christmas with these restrictions. But I wouldn’t bet the house on it.”
Gray believes few lessons have been learned from the implementation of the third lockdown on Christmas Eve last year.
“You have to ask yourself – and that’s an important question – where have we moved since last year. Have we learned lessons or implemented a plan? I do not think so.
“During the last lockdown we lost thousands of euros in stock. When you have perishable goods, you can’t just turn a switch on and off. In addition, we had refrigerators that broke down and things like that.
‘Notifying you 24 hours in advance is not good. You cannot run a business on 24 hours notice. You need at least a week to check your inventory and say, “Well, I’m not going to order anymore.” Last year we were closed at 3pm on Christmas Eve. If that happens again this year, it will only hurt the industry.”