EDITORIAL COMMENT: Bar openings must be subject to special conditions

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The herald

The Cabinet’s decision to allow the reopening of bars and nightclubs, albeit under strict medical and other restrictions, effectively completes the reopening of the economy with all businesses now able to operate in all sectors.

The leisure industry, to which bars and nightclubs naturally belong, was the last sector to reopen and the first sector completely into the new normal. All businesses in this industry must not only follow common nationwide health rules such as masking, disinfection, and social distancing, but they can only be enjoyed by fully vaccinated people.

If you want to play sports, go to a restaurant, go to a gym or a health club, go to the cinema or the theater, visit an art gallery and now go to a bar or a nightclub, you must bring your vaccination record. And, while rules for bar staff have yet to be set, given that those working in the rest of the leisure industry must be fully vaccinated, bartenders are unlikely to be exempt.

Of the good reasons to delay reopening much of the entertainment industry until there are large groups of fully vaccinated people, safety was the obvious first.

There is a greater automatic and inherent danger of infection throughout this area. Certain areas, such as restaurants and bars, may not require the wearing of the mask at all times; you must remove it before eating or drinking. Sports activities and gyms can limit some contact, but again, strenuous exercise behind a mask is difficult, and there are some activities where social distancing is simply not possible.

Even in cinemas and theaters that follow the 50 percent rule and operate at half empty, customers will be tighter than would be desirable in many other businesses.

And much of the leisure activity, especially what happens in bars and nightclubs, tends to bring friends together and allow for social situations where many become careless and much less worried about the risks of infection.

Compulsory full vaccination is required to ensure basic safety in these environments. Vaccination is not foolproof, which is why other precautions are necessary, but it is a major help.

Of course, this essential condition must be respected. Many companies in the sector do. Either you cannot enter the premises without a vaccination card, or you cannot get service without a card, and the entertainment industry is not a self-service sector. But already, you see a certain relaxation in some companies.

Unfortunately, the authorities will have to intervene. Police patrols will have to stop at restaurants, bars and the like in the entertainment industry and ask to see maps. Those who don’t have cards won’t be the only ones in trouble.

Business owners and sports clubs have a responsibility to ensure that they serve only fully vaccinated people, and if they skimp on this duty, they could well be in serious trouble.

Some have already raised the issue of opening hours. Many enjoy participating in leisure activities after work, and this has been recognized in the world of sports, where there is an extra hour after most businesses close.

Amid the general joy of yesterday, voices were raised to point out that the general opening hours were 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and that any change in any industry would require new hours for certain types of businesses, which is not impossible, but a change which would require good reasons.

Much would depend on the willingness of everyone involved, both as business owners and as customers, to follow the rules, starting with that rule for the full vaccination. Neglect cannot be rewarded.

But if there is a general acceptance of the need to be fully immunized before having fun, and if there is a big push to make sure that this particular rule is applied, then we would tend to be d agreement with those who would like to see an extension of opening hours in the leisure sector.

The curfew, currently set at 10 p.m., includes a time limit for people to return home, so it is difficult to see how the leisure time could be extended beyond 9 p.m. at the latest, but it could possibly – be extended until this hour if everyone was ready to cooperate, but much will depend on the degree of persuasion of the sector, the test being its willingness to enforce all the conditions set.

It must be remembered that there was another reason for delaying the opening of the leisure industry. This particular sector cannot be considered essential to the survival of the economy.

Business owners and their employees have obviously been hit badly, but the rest of the economy has managed to keep turning and even growing.

But the sector adds to the quality of life, all those things that make life pleasant.

It starts off as a good area to use for the pilot of what may well be needed over time, the need to ensure that only fully vaccinated people can enjoy many of the extras in life. It can also be an incentive to get vaccinated.

With 2.34 million Zimbabweans now having both jabs, there are huge numbers of those who can participate in leisure activities and so bar owners and the like do not need to cheat, especially more than 800,000 more arrive after having had their first stroke and are only waiting for their second. The government has taken a big step forward in opening up the last sectors of the economy. But it did so against the backdrop of what many now expect to be the new normal, where a dangerous disease will be kept at bay, if necessary for decades, through vaccination and other health precautions.

The government’s decision, and the confidence it shows in our sectors of activity, must be repaid by these same sectors which follow and apply the rules which ensure the safety of all.

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