Jamaica Observer: Montego Bay, St James — Bar owners across western Jamaica have poured cold water on Government’s guidelines for the reopening of their businesses, stressing that aspects of the proposed restrictions will cause them to incur further losses.
Lowell Spence, owner of Smokeez by the Sea, located at Harvey Beach, Montego Bay, said while he understands the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the “one size fits all” approach doesn’t apply in the bar industry.
“It has been a challenging period for all, but I am asking the Government to please consult with someone who understands the bar industry and also how bars in Jamaica operate,” Spence argued.
“The old adage ‘one size fits all’ does not apply in this sense. The bars must be tiered and placed based on square footage and categories,” Spence suggested, adding that there are different layouts and designs for bars.
“Some are beach bars, corner bars, terrace bars, and garden bars. Some bars are 10 square feet, while others like Smokeez can adequately practise social distancing for 20 patrons,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
Bars and other places of entertainment were ordered closed on March 18 as part of the first round of measures announced by the Government to combat spread of the novel coronavirus 2019.
The measure was extended early last month with Prime Minister Andrew Holness saying that the matter had been discussed but the country was not yet in a position to have the bars reopened.
“You will see all around the world, almost universally, that they have closed bars and areas of entertainment, and that is because of the nature of how the disease is spread,” Holness said at the time.
However, with pressure mounting on the Administration to reopen some sectors in order to reignite economic activity, the Government on Monday announced that community bars will be allowed to reopen, but within established guidelines.
Giving an outline of the restrictions, Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie said that bars will be allowed to open at 11:00 am on May 19 and will remain open for two weeks, during which their operations will be assessed.
The measures, he said, will include social and physical distancing; no more than five people, including the bartender, in the bar at any one time; no stools, no benches, chairs or tables for people within the bar. There shall be no group games inside the bar. Poker boxes and other such gambling and gaming instruments must be placed at least six feet apart to ensure social and physical distancing.
He added that all individuals operating and attending the bar must wear face masks. Bartenders must wear protective clothing and each bar must establish a sanitisation station for the proper washing of hands and maintain sanitation protocols that will be set out by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
Yesterday, a bar operator in Lucea, who requested anonymity, said since the closure he has had to permanently shutter the business, as he was unable to meet his monthly rental fee of $50,000.
“I had to remove all my stock from the building because I am unable to pay my rent and other bills, as I wasn’t earning. I will have to start all over again if I am going back in the bar business,” he told the Observer.
Another bar owner, who operates in the neighbouring parish of Westmoreland, urged the Government to rethink some of the proposed guidelines.
“It is obvious that the Government didn’t do its homework,” he stressed.
“I have a bar consisting of several hundred square feet, are you telling me that I can only have four customers in there at a time?” he asked.
“While I can understand that four might be adequate for many bars, I am absolutely sure that there are many, many bars that can accommodate several more than the four persons while at the same time practising social distancing.”
He also questioned the wisdom in not having bar stools in the facilities.
“The bar stools can’t practise social distancing? It is the people who can do that, so why not say place the stools six feet apart?” he asked.
He argued that if the proposed guidelines are implemented many bar operators will chalk up further losses.
“If Government don’t make the necessary adjustments to the guidelines, then might as well I keep my business closed until the restrictions are eased. To do otherwise will spell disaster,” he argued.
Meanwhile, Julian Smith, co-owner of Kadies Sports Bar in Cooper’s Pen, Trelawny, believes that when her bar reopens it will not attract the same level of patronage as before the closure.
“As it relates to the reopening of the bars, you won’t have the regular number of people to come and support… but we just have to watch and see what plays out, especially with the guidelines,” stated Smith.