As the country this week enters the third phase of the easing of the public health restrictions put in place to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic, and significant sections of our society re-open to the public, the thoughts of all keen bridge players are turning to the question of when we might see ourselves back at the real-life bridge table rather than the virtual one.

For the moment, the phase three guidance that no indoor gathering should involve more than 50 people, and the continuing social distancing recommendation of two metres, together mean that re-opening a bridge club is not feasible. However, the fact that the government has accelerated the easing of restrictions suggests that we can perhaps begin to be more optimistic about a future re-opening.

The Association, aided by a number of volunteers from the playing cohort, has put in place a set of suggested protocols for running a bridge club or event whilst minimising the risk of transmission of the virus, and has submitted these to the public health authorities for guidance. We would like to thank in particular Dr Joe Barry, Professor of Public Health in Trinity College Dublin, and a recent and enthusiastic recruit to bridge, for his most helpful input. The key safety measures proposed include the use of perspex screens at every table to separate all four players, the wearing of protective face-masks, retention of equipment by a single individual wherever possible (for example, bidding boxes), regular hand sanitisation, and regular cleaning of shared facilities. This approach is consistent with the situation across the world, where some countries have already returned to live bridge with these kinds of precautions in place. We await a response from the authorities on our submission, but, if a positive one is forthcoming, we are hopeful that clubs may be back at the table in real-life at some stage in the autumn. We will of course keep all our member clubs informed of progress in this regard.

However, it should be pointed out that the CBAI does not ultimately have authority in relation to the running of local bridge clubs; that responsibility rests with the relevant club committee. Even assuming that a pathway to re-opening does present itself, each such committee must satisfy themselves that any decision to re-open is sensible in the context of the particular circumstances of the club – the size of the premises, the usage level of the shared equipment, the feasibility of regular cleaning, etc. And even when clubs do re-open, individual members may understandably be reluctant to return, and should not be pressurised into attending unless they feel comfortable doing so. (Nor, of course, should anyone displaying symptoms of Coronavirus, or concerned that they may be carrying the virus, or who has recently been in contact with anyone diagnosed with the illness, attend ANY public gathering at ANY stage.)

And finally, more than one hundred of our clubs at this stage have discovered that, in the absence of real-life bridge, online bridge as a virtual club on the BBO platform is the next best thing. If your club hasn’t explored this avenue yet, and would like to do so, we’re happy to help. Just give us a call on (01) 4929666. Even if you think your membership is too small to allow you to function on your own as a virtual club, we may be able to put you in touch with another club that can oblige, ensuring that your members don’t have to miss out on their regular bridge fix.