Fri | Dec 4, 2020

High spirits! - Alcohol interests say cheers as Gov’t loosens COVID ban on bars

Published:Tuesday | May 12, 2020 | 12:22 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
 A bartender pours a drink for a patron at  a community bar in Stony Hill, St Andrew, in 2018. After a two-month ban, the Government will allow the reopening of bars next week.
A bartender pours a drink for a patron at a community bar in Stony Hill, St Andrew, in 2018. After a two-month ban, the Government will allow the reopening of bars next week.

BAR OPERATORS have been given a reprieve as the Holness administration prepares to loosen the strictures which have for two months kept the doors of saloons shuttered.

Operators of Jamaica’s 10,000 registered bars will be allowed to accept up to four drinkers.

The announcement was made yesterday a Jamaica House briefing and will come into effect on May 19.

Bar operators have been racking up losses as the Government ordered their operations closed amid the COVID-19 outbreak here. Jamaica has recorded 505 SARS-CoV-2 infections and nine related deaths.

But growls from that sector and added pressure from powerful private-sector interests appear to have moved the Government to revise its management strategy for the disease. Alcohol manufacturers have seen eroding profits, as income streams have fallen with the closure of bars and hotels, and the banning of parties and other social events.

Highly anticipated

J. Wray & Nephew Limited Chairman Clement ‘Jimmy’ Lawrence told The Gleaner last night that the move was “highly anticipated”, declaring that his company will be able to meet the demand from drinkers.

“We understand the hurt that the bar community feels, but essentially what we seek to have is a balance that they can get their livelihood, but at the same time not be exposed to any virus,” Lawrence said in his initial reaction to the announcement.

Lawrence stated he was unable to make projections on when the industry was likely to rebound but disclosed that the supply to bars has not suffered a massive hit.

“In terms of supply in the trade, it has not reached a point where there is any remarkable impact – there is a disruption, yes – but not anything remarkable. It’s going to be protracted, one would think, but that’s something we would have to watch,” he said.

Contact was made with Dianne Ashton-Smith, head of corporate relations with Red Stripe, but questions emailed to her were not answered up to press time.

Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie said that all individuals operating and visiting bars must wear face masks and protective clothing.

“The social and physical distancing must be maintained. There shall be no events that promote social gathering, such as parties and round-robin events,” McKenzie said yesterday evening at a Jamaica House press conference.

McKenzie said that each bar must establish a sanitisation station for the proper washing of hands and maintain sanitisation protocols that will be set out by the Ministry of Health & Wellness.

All bars are also being asked to display proper signage to advise customers of the protocols under which they will operate.

“We are going to ask operators to comply. Failure to make the system work will probably prevent us extending the period of operations for these bars,” McKenzie warned yesterday.

He made a special appeal for persons over 65 to stay home.

“The order requires that you stay at home. We are going to be encouraging that age group to try and resist the temptation of the spirit,” the minister said.

While concerns linger over the long-term survival of bars given the downturn in economic activity over the past two months, Lawrence, Wray & Nephew’s chairman, believes many players will weather the storm.

“Surely they must have been impacted, because these are small operators. Some are eight square feet, and the closure must impact them significantly.

“But they have been highly entrepreneurial in their ways and I don’t see any gross reasons why they could not come back. These are very resourceful persons and I would anticipate that they would rebound,” Lawrence said.

Sheldon Picart, a bar operator in Stony Hill, St Andrew, told The Gleaner yesterday evening that he was elated at the prospect of reopening.

“The only problem for us is the six feet apart rules for amusement boxes. Most bars are rented and don’t carry that amount of space to do such,” Picart said. “I would prefer if the Government said all persons playing boxes must wear gloves and masks.”

And Michelle Reynolds, owner of a shop and bar in Whithorn, Westmoreland, also welcomed the news.

“It’s not going to be easy, but it’s a start. The shop was opened but I had to close my bar,” said Reynolds. “The bar is the faster of the two. And like how dem say dem a guh watch, a we must do the right ting,” said Reynolds.

Another bar operator in Temple Hall, also in St Andrew, had reservations about the resumption of service because of the risk linked with the highly contagious virus.

“Mi nuh think it safe still, ‘cause some a guh comply, some won’t. I don’t feel we ready as yet much as how we feeling it,” said the operator, who requested anonymity.

“We close at less cases and a reopen back at so many.”

romario.scott@gleanerjm.com

Bar operation measures:

1. Social and physical distancing must be maintained.

2. No more than five people, including the bartender, shall be in the bar at any one time.

3. All seating arrangements outside the bars must be maintained, that is physical distancing of six feet between each single seating unit.

4. There shall be no stools, no benches, chairs nor table for people within the bar.

5. There shall be no group games, dominoes, etc. inside the bar or on the premises occupied by the bar.

6. Poker boxes and other such gambling and gaming instruments must be placed at least six feet apart to ensure social and physical distancing.

7. There shall be no events that promote social gathering such as parties.

8. Bar doors and windows shall remain open during the operating hours.