New Covid-19 guidelines are due to be published this week by Failte Ireland regarding the reopening of so-called “wet pubs”, with the Government expected to give the green light in the middle of this month. All pubs are being asked to develop an ‘action plan’ for reopening.

The draft guidelines stipulate that physical distancing can be relaxed to 1m in a controlled environment, but that pre-booking and time-limited slots will not be required if a physical distance of 2m can be maintained. However, online reservation options are encouraged, “as not only will this communicate new procedures and practices, but it will also limit the requirement for queueing”.

No more than six people can be located at any one table and they must not come from more than three different households. This applies to both pre-bookings and walk-ins. In order to facilitate contact tracing, the name and telephone number of one person from a group must be taken and kept for 28 days. And customers must be able to enter and exit through separate doors, where possible, with doors propped open if fire regulations allow.

As with bars serving food, the wet pub’s bar counter cannot be used for seating or service to customers, who “must remain seated and order from their seat”. Publicans will also be required to reduce the number of seats in their establishment.

Face coverings must be worn by all employees in customer facing roles, unless there is a protective screen in place, while fresh glasses are to be used for each drink, which staff “must handle...by the stem or base”. Use of cash is discouraged, with customers asked to use card/contactless payments where possible.

Customers must also leave a wet pub by 11.30pm, meaning late bars and nightclubs will probably remain closed even if a wider operation of pubs without food is permitted.

There will be extensive rules included on cleaning and disinfection, as well as advice on limiting interactions within a pub and the use of electronic menus, phone apps and menu boards as an alternative to the use of drinks menus. Outside smoking area capacity must be reviewed and altered if necessary, with the amount of seating also reduced to ensure “appropriate physical distancing measures”.

The Government guideline for the reopening of pubs during the Covid-19 pandemic are expected to call for straws to be individually wrapped, while the “embellishment or decoration of glasses (such as cocktail umbrellas) should be minimised”. Good hand hygiene must also be employed when preparing drinks “where fruit garnishes are required”, and these garnishes must be refrigerated, covered and served using a tongs or a scoop that “must have its own receptacle”.

Prominent signage must explain physical distancing practices, and markers illustrating the distancing must be displayed “throughout the premises”. The guidelines advise certain items must be cleaned after each use, including tables, stools, chairs, trays, pens and other reusable items customers come into contact with.

Management is responsible for minimising entry and exit points, and managing physical distancing, rather than just relying on signage. Bars must be divided into different zones, which are allocated to different employees, with movement between these areas to be minimised. A strict queuing system for toilets will also be required and a limit on the number of users to ensure physical distancing

Donall O’Keeffe, chief executive of the Licensed Vintners Association, said the new guidelines still represented a “huge restriction” on normal ways of doing business, adding: “Not being able to use the bar is a very significant restriction for wet pubs and having table service only changes the dynamic.”

He raised concerns about the costs of compliance against a backdrop of greatly reduced turnover in pubs that reopen, and said he felt further financial supports for the sector would be “inevitable”.