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'We don't have time to police customers': Bar and restaurant owners call for guidance on tourist quarantine

Some hospitality businesses have turned away tourists who are not following the quarantine advice on arrival in Ireland.

Image: Shutterstock

RESTAURANT AND BAR owners have called for guidance from the government in relation to customers who are not following the 14-day quarantine advice when they arrive in Ireland.

A number of businesses have already said they will turn away customers who have not quarantined for two weeks after arriving in the country, but they have criticised the government for leaving it to them to “police” the situation.

Chef JP McMahon said there was a group of people from Texas at his Galway restaurant Cava Bodega on Friday night and staff were “very uncomfortable”.

“We have no way of knowing if they just arrived and should be self-quarantining,” he said on Twitter. McMahon said the restaurant has now changed its policy and will ask those booking with international phone numbers for their entry date into the country.

However he said he and his staff are running a restaurant and do not have “time to police customers”.

“We need a decision on this, particularly if people are coming from places with high cases,” he said.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Today with Sarah McInerney, McMahon said “it has to be caught at the source” if plane-loads of people are coming into the country every week. 

“We’re powerless to stop people and we can’t be discriminatory, you know.”

He said he recognises that the example on Friday night was “not fair on staff” and he felt responsible for that. 

“I need to make sure it doesn’t happen going forward,” he said. 

‘We’re left to deal with this’

The King’s Head pub in Galway has said it refused entry to a group of American tourists at the weekend. 

Owner Paul Grealish said a group of seven people from the US came to the front door of the pub and asked if there was space for them. He said his general manager was “nervous that they were newly arrived Americans as opposed to Americans who might be residing here”. 

“He asked them for a phone number and preferably an Irish number. The number they gave him was an American one so he just told them he had checked and we were all full up,” Grealish told TheJournal.ie.

“He was caught on the hop, he wasn’t expecting that to happen and he took the right course of action by not accepting them on health and safety grounds. It wouldn’t be fair on our staff or other customers.”

Grealish said he is now formulating a plan on how to manage these situations in general going forward.

“Normally at this time of year we’re be welcoming them [tourists] with open arms – that’s the irony of it – but we will be unapologetically enquiring as to when people arrived if we have reason to believe they are newly arrived,” he said. 

We feel health and safety is more important than maybe insulting someone or asking them a question they may not have been expecting to have to answer. If they’re offended by that then so be it because unfortunately it looks like we’re left to deal with this. 

Gregan’s Castle Hotel in Co Clare has said it turned away two American’s for dinner last week.

“They were renting a house in the area and had flown straight in from Denver,” the restaurant tweeted yesterday.

“We have a responsibility to our guests and staff and of course to the wider community. Looking forward to everything getting back to normal but for now we must stay safe.”

A bike tour company in Clare also reported cancelling customers who were booked on a guided tour after they revealed they had not quarantined:

Guidance

Adrian Cummins, CEO of the Restaurant Association of Ireland (RSAI) has written to the Minister for Tourism and the Minister for Health calling for guidelines for tourism and hospitality businesses on how to handle these situations. 

“I had firsthand experience with this on Sunday, there was an American national who went into a cafe and effectively everyone looked at him like he had 10 heads,” he said.

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“He has been living in the State for the last number of years working with tech companies, so just because a persons has a non-Irish accent doesn’t mean they’re a tourist. We have to make sure whatever is done it is done properly and respectfully in a way where everybody does the right thing.”

Cummins said testing at airports should be implemented all across Europe and guidelines should be issued to businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector so they are not “trying to make it up on the huff”.

“We need assurance for businesses across the State about how to run the business safely and make sure their staff and customers are protected.”

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall today expressed concern at the government’s delay in publishing a green list of countries that are deemed low-risk. She said the current situation is “the worst of both worlds” with tourists travelling to Ireland from countries with high infection rates. 

“We heard stories over the weekend about 14 flights arriving here from the United States and tourists being able to move around the country without restriction,” she said.

While there is supposed to be self-isolation, there is no legal requirement for this. The reality is that many visitors who arrive here are not answering the follow-up calls when attempts are made to contact them by the Irish authorities.

Shortall said the absence of a green list means people are unable to distinguish between safe and high-risk countries.

“Irish people have made great progress in suppressing the spread of Covid-19 in recent months but this drift with foreign travel is putting our health and economy in jeopardy,” she said. 

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