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Hospitality calls for close contact period to be cut to five days amid staffing woes

Hospitality staff who are close contacts should be treated as essential workers and allowed to return to work after five days in order to ease staffing shortages in the sector, the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) has said.

his plea comes as the RAI said the current close contact guidelines were having a “huge impact” on many businesses who were struggling to stay open due to staff having to isolate.

Currently, close contacts who have not had a booster are told to restrict their movements and stay at home for 10 days and do five antigen tests. Those who have had a booster at least seven days ago must restrict their movements for five days and do three antigen tests.

Hospitality workers should have this period reduced to five days across the board to ease the pressure on businesses, Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the RAI said.

“The current wave of cases is having a huge impact across all of hospitality because of the close contact rules and we believe we need to reduce the 10 days down to five for close contacts within the industry.

“We would also like to see hospitality seen as an essential service in light of the fact there’s a certain cohort of the population that rely on restaurants for their daily consumption of calories.

“This is going back to 2020 when the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said a third of people either relied on restaurants or take-aways for their consumption of calories,” Mr Cummins told Independent.ie. 

This move would be in line with other jurisdictions, with the CDC in the United States cutting the isolation time for Covid-positive people and close contacts from 10 days to five. Spain has also taken a similar line and reduced the isolation period to seven days.

England last week also cut the period of isolation to seven days but a Covid-positive patient could only end their isolation period if they tested negative on antigen tests on days six and seven.

Mr Cummins said he has spoken with the owners of many restaurants that have had to close due to staff being deemed close contacts and being out of work for 10 days.

“It is happening right across the sector at the moment. We need to look at certain sectors – the Tánaiste did say certain parts of the economy would be deemed essential, so they would be exempt from the close contact rule,” Mr Cummins said.

The retail sector has also felt the force of infection and close contact absences in recent weeks and this has left retailers with a “significant challenge” in trying to remain open amid staff shortages.

Many businesses now find themselves opening with less staff than normal and this is anticipated to be “major issue” in January.

“High case numbers have created a significant challenge for retailers trying to manage a spike in staff absence,” Retail Ireland Director Arnold Dillon said.

“This is likely to remain a major issue over the coming weeks. Businesses are working hard to ensure stores continue to stay open and trade, but many will be operating with less staff than normal. We would ask customers for their patience and understanding.

“The primary focus of retailers is to ensure a safe shopping environment for staff and customers. Businesses are actively reinforcing messages about face coverings, hand hygiene and social distancing in store. In some instances, customers may have to queue outside to manage social distancing inside, but we’re nearly two years into this pandemic, and customers are familiar with and supportive of these measures,” Mr Dillon said.

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