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COVID-19 bars buzz

Gherahtu and Rukundo addressing journalists at Kati Kati Restaurant in Kampala on Nov.13. We are losing money daily yet we employ millions of Ugandans.

Kampala, Uganda | Julius Businge | How critical are bars when it comes to fueling economic growth? Is it possible to respect standard operating procedures where sobriety is doubted amidst rising COVID-19 cases?

These could have been some of the questions that President Yoweri Museveni and his national COVID-19 taskforce asked themselves while easing lockdown for some sectors recently.

Through the Minister of Health (Jane Ruth Aceng), government on Nov.09 announced it had among other things considered reopening cinemas, gyms, massage parlors, and mobile markets, effective Saturday, November 14, 2020 in line of with easing lockdown measures linked to coronavirus containment.

But casinos and gaming outlets would resume operations after fulfilling conditions included in the standard operating procedures including hand washing, sanitizing, social distancing and temperature testing.

However, bars were not reopened. On Nov.13, the Association of Bar Owners, with approx.200 active members, told reporters in Kampala that they felt their business was being discriminated in the reopening process yet, they can also apply the SOPs to contain the spread of the virus as they bring back their businesses to life.

This development came amidst allegations that some bars continue to operate illegally which flouts the SOPs for COVID-19.

It is also coming at a time the country is dealing with phase four of Covid-19 pandemic where community transmission is high and number of deaths rising. As of Nov.13, amidst limited testing capabilities, government figures indicated a total of 14,993 positive cases, 7,939 recoveries and 139 deaths. The numbers are projected to rise due to the ongoing political activities that are attracting mass political rallies in addition to carelessness by members of the public in observing the issued coronavirus SOPs.

Led by the association chairman and owner of Casablanca Pub & Restaurant, Tesfalem Gherahtu and Medard Rukundo, member of the executive committee, said whereas the initial decision to close bars was necessary and timely to stem the spread and impact of the coronavirus, continued closure has resulted in severe economic consequences with many bar and club businesses going into distress.

The duo said bars are a key player in the hospitality industry, sustaining over 6.3 million people in a diverse value chain that consists of manufacturers, grain farmers, contracted distributors and retailers.

Their argument is that bars significantly contribute to the economy through provision of employment, remittances to the national treasury through taxes and support to the retail and trade sector from which supplies are sourced.

The bar business, the executives said, generates approx. Shs 2.8tn in turnover annually in revenue but have since March 2020, suffered a revenue loss of Shs 1.1 tn.

The bar business employs sections of workers including cleaners, bouncers, service staff, chefs, accountants, store keepers, security personnel in a country that is grappling with high unemployment levels.

In addition, they said that operators are spiking rent figures, grappling with expired/expiring stock and are under even more distress as they fail to meet their credit obligations.

“We therefore wish to make a plea to government to allow us to re-open our businesses with strict adherence to COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures,” they said, adding: “The unprecedented nature of the pandemic has changed our way of life and how businesses operate and bars are not an exception.”

They added that the safety of customers and the nation are a top priority for them and will work with all stakeholders to ensure that the SOPs are implemented and strictly followed.

Planned SOPs by operators

 All patrons must wear face masks before admission

 All patrons and staff must wash hands with soap/sanitizer provided by the outlet

 Temperature of all patrons and staff will be checked using hand-held temperature guns; persons with a temperature above 37.0°C will be denied entry and handed over to the authorities

 Registration of client details (names, telephone contact, temperature reading, and time of arrival) will be carried out to ease contact tracing. Persons who decline to provide their details will be denied entry to the outlet.

 Bars will operate at 50% of normal capacity to allow sufficient social distancing and crowd control

 Outdoor seating will be encouraged over indoor seating.

 No usage of air-conditioning

 No loud music shall be played to avoid clients having to shout when talking

 A 2-meter distance will be observed between tables

 All surfaces including tables, chairs, and counters will be sanitized before clients sit and after they leave

 All bar staff will always wear face masks

 Cashless transactions will be encouraged

 Management of all bars shall ensure availability of sufficient security to evict non-complying clients

 Curfew hours shall be respected by all outlets and all bars will close at 8:00 pm to allow sufficient time for clients to travel home before 9:00 pm

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