Ireland entered Phase 2 of the Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business on 8 June 2020. On this date, a further cohort of retailers opened their doors to the public for the first time in nearly three months. We examine the types of retailers permitted to open, the conditions under which they may open and the penalties for retail units opening and operating in breach of the restrictions.
The regulations which provided for the wider range of retail outlets opening were the Health Act 1947 (Section 31a – Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 206 of 2020) (the Regulations). These are in effect from 8 – 29 June 2020.
The Regulations replace the existing regulations regulating retail outlets, implemented to curb the spread of COVID-19. These came into effect on 8 April 2020 by the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A – Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 121 of 2020) (the Principle Regulations).
The Retail Lockdown
Among the drastic measures imposed by the Principle Regulations was the shutting of all non “essential retail outlet” shops. The shops permitted to open were ones which provided for the sale and supply of:
- medicine and medical supplies
- financial services
- animal care
- mechanical repair
The Principle Regulations were amended on 18 May 2020 expanding the categories of retail outlets permitted to open. Those offering the sale or supply of the following were permitted to open:
- Home maintenance and gardening supplies
- Non emergency dental, optician and hearing services
- IT, communications and equipment necessary to support home working
- Markets which principally or wholly offer food for sale
Phase 2: Re-opening of Shops
The Regulations significantly broadened the range of retail outlets that may open. The vast majority of retail outlets that can be accessed from a street or car park entrance may reopen. In addition, all retail outlets that were previously permitted to open under the Principle Regulations (as amended) remain open.
All other retail outlets must remain closed. Certain retail outlets with street access must remain closed. These include:
- Cinemas, non-retail galleries, indoor leisure outlets
- Hair and beauty salons
- Gyms and sports facilities
These are defined in the Regulations as Relevant Businesses or Services. A full list of Relevant Businesses or Services and retailers permitted to open can be found in the Regulations.
Obligations on Retailers
The Regulations place the responsibility on the occupier, manager or any person for the time being in charge of a premises to take all reasonable steps to ensure the public is not granted access to a premises or part of a premises where Relevant Businesses or Services are carried out. Retailers must implement measures to ensure customers are not granted access to any part of the premises where such a restricted business takes place. Examples may include in-store salons or café seating needing to be closed off. Public health guidance including hygiene, social distancing and optional face coverings continues to apply to retailers and need to be considered in reopening plans.
A breach of the Regulations is a criminal offence. A person who:
- Contravenes the Regulations
- Impedes the enforcement of the Regulations
- Refuses to give information or knowingly provides false or misleading information
shall be guilty of an offence under Section 31A of the Health Act of 1947. The penalty is a maximum fine of €2,500, imprisonment of up to 6 months or both.
Where an offence is carried out by a company, if it is proven that the offence was committed with the consent or with the wilful neglect of a director, manager, secretary or officer or person acting as such, that person along with the company shall be guilty of an offence.
Guidance for Reopening
While the Regulations allow for more retail outlets to open, businesses are required to do so in line with the Return to Work Safety Protocol developed between the HSE, the Department of Health and the Health and Safety Authority. Landlords, business owners, employers and employees need to pay heed to this when reopening.
The Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business has indicated that retail shops in shopping centres may open on 15 June 2020, so long as measures are taken to ensure people do not congregate at benches, food courts or fountains. Phase 3, which is planned to commence on 29 June 2020, is due to permit restaurants to open.
Landlords, tenants and retailers will have to work together to ensure a safe and enjoyable retail experience if shoppers are to return to Irish shops. Any arrangements, concessions or works required to comply with the Regulations should be clearly documented to ensure all parties are aware of their obligations and to avoid future disputes.
Our partners, associates and our support teams are available as usual to support your business. We also have a specific COVID-19 Hub to help you.
Contributed by Holly Fleming