Despite the 22-page set of rules to reopening Irish pubs are we reopening, post-COVID, too soon as many health experts believe.

We won't know if we have a new government here until this Friday when the votes from the party members of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, and the Green Party -- the three parties in the potential coalition -- are counted.   The deal between the politicians is done but the agreed program has to be approved by party members this week and it's not certain how that will go, especially in the Green Party where a two-thirds majority is required.  

It's enough to drive a reasonable person to drink since it's now four and a half months since the election and our future administration is still not decided. 

With politics still up in the air, that brings us to the subject for this week, the reopening of bars here from next Monday, June 29.

Read more: Guinness launches $100 million fund to save pubs worldwide

This is near same reopening day as the one for bars and restaurants in New York although there are significant differences in how it will operate here.  I'm told that in New York it will be outdoor dining and drinking only, with no indoor service allowed.   Here we will be indoors as well as outdoors, but the rules will be so restrictive that the traditional Irish pub may never be the same again.   

More seriously, just like in New York, there is considerable fear here that we are doing this too soon and that it could be the cause of a second wave of the virus.  And it's not just the killjoys who are saying this -- many people who love going to the pub are saying they're not going to risk it for a long time yet.

So opinion on reopening the pubs is divided.  It would be fair to say that most people are in favor, particularly the pub regulars for whom life has not been the same since the closure.  

But there are many dissenting voices, including some of our leading health experts who say we are gambling with the health of the nation for no good reason.  Why risk it, they ask.  Are we such slaves to the drink that we can't wait for a few more weeks?  

Under the original lockdown plan, the pubs were supposed to remain closed for another month or more, but our success in suppressing COVID cases to low numbers in recent weeks has allowed the authorities to ease up.  They and the politicians have been under considerable pressure to do so not just from drinkers but from the powerful bar owners lobby which was warning that the hospitality sector and tourism might never recover unless there was movement. 

Read more: Coronavirus live updates from Ireland

The revised plan will allow bars here to open from Monday but only under stringent conditions, rules that the bar bores claim will take all the fun out of the traditional pub experience.  The days of rambling at will into a crowded bar are gone and the new dispensation will be more like going to church, they say. 

The rules were published last week in a 22-page document.  The most important change is that only pubs that serve food can reopen, and it will be table service only.  (Pubs that don't serve food will have to wait until at least July 20 before they can open again.)  

There will be no standing or sitting at the bar or having the craic with your friends away from your table.  And the food cannot just be a bag of peanuts or potato chips -- it must be a "substantial meal" that costs at least €9, which probably means it will be a main course.   

The next big change is that you cannot wander into the pub on a whim unless it has very few customers inside at the time.   To be sure of getting in you will have to book in advance and you will be given a table for a maximum of 105 minutes.  Once your time is up you will have to leave. 

You can share the table with a small group of family or friends, but everyone at the table who is drinking alcohol has to order a meal.  One person in the group, probably the person who booked the table, must give their name and contact details to a staff member and keep a note of each person at their table to enable contact tracing if there is a problem down the line.  

Read more: Pubs in Ireland must serve "substantial" meals in order to reopen on June 29

There will be a 15-minute gap between groups at a table to allow for comprehensive cleaning of the table and seats.  Tables in the bar have to be spaced so that social distancing between groups is observed, although this can be one meter instead of two if the bar has protections in place like screens and/or floor markings. 

There will be special arrangements for toilets to avoid crowding, and in most pubs, a staff member will be on duty to monitor and control the number entering the restroom area.  Apart from getting up from a table to use the restroom, customers will not be allowed to move around the bar.  Customers will order and pay for their drinks and food at their table and staff members will observe social distancing and wear masks if this is problematic.   

Apart from these main restrictions, there are many other rules for bar owners laid down in the 22-page reopening document, only some of which will be obvious to customers.  

All customer contact points and areas, like doors, handles, rails, bins, outdoor benches, etc., must be cleaned and disinfected at least twice a day.

You won't be getting an umbrella in your cocktail and if you need a straw it must be individually wrapped, not loose in a box. 

If you are having a pint, the dispenser must not touch the glass and the same applies to bottles.  Glasses coming out of the washer must not be stacked on top of each other.  And so on in great detail likely to drive bar owners mad.  

As a result, some bar owners, even in drinking hotspots like Temple Bar, have decided not to reopen until July 20 when all the food requirements and the associated pages of rules will no longer apply.  But even then social distancing and intensive cleaning will be necessary, and the pub experience will not be like it was before COVID.   

So are all these rules over the top?  Will the traditional Irish pub be destroyed forever?  Most importantly, are the health experts who are warning that we are doing this too soon correct?  

Some of the rules are incredibly detailed but the authorities say that it is vital that both bar owners and customers know exactly what is expected of them.   The traditional Irish pub will survive, but the trend that is already there to move to a more European format involving more food and less alcohol is likely to be accelerated.   

That may not be such a bad thing.  Having to fight your way to the bar as closing time approaches, the drinking becomes frenetic and the noise level is not so great.  Having to put up with pub bores who barge into your conversation is not great either.  

Nor is having to shout to make yourself heard over woeful ballads and diddle-eye music.  Or to put up with some of the nonsense that is excused as "only having the craic."  There are many things about the traditional Irish pub that could do with a change.  

As far as the health aspect is concerned, the concerns among some experts about this earlier reopening are real.  If you had to design the perfect hotbed for spreading the virus you could not do better than a pub, with its crowded customers shouting into each other’s faces when a few pints have loosened their inhibitions.  

The health experts are right to be worried, as we have seen in the recent outbreaks of the virus in a bar in Florida, for example, or a nightclub in South Korea. The fact is we are taking a substantial risk, and it's mainly down to our obsession with drink.  

The counter-argument from the pub owners is that we can't stay closed forever and we must reopen now to save the hospitality sector or it won't be there when the tourists eventually come back.  There is some merit in that argument.

But there is something very strange about our priorities -- we are reopening pubs but not schools. And we are reopening pubs even though hospitals are saying they cannot offer some cancer screening services because the virus danger is still too high.  

Work that one out over a quiet pint in a bar somewhere next week. 

Iht 600x300px with button2