Last weekend after alcohol sales were lifted under Level 2 of the lockdown regulations. As expected, many went out and binged on alcohol and got themselves entangled in foolish and criminal behaviour. As a country we definitely have a problem with the way we consume alcohol. Last Saturday was the first time I went out – what I saw in those few hours alarmed me a great deal.
The opening of places that sell alcohol seems to have a different meaning to different people. The way people went about their business proved beyond reasonable doubt the fears that the government had about alcohol drinking and the harm it would have in the fight against the spread of the pandemic were, sadly, well founded. You would swear that we were back in February before the lockdown and the arrival of the pandemic on our shores. A mask properly worn over the face was a rare sight and so many people completely forgot about social distancing and all other measures we have become accustomed to.
In one establishment there was no one at the gate to sanitise revellers at all. One shudders to think what the outcome will be in a couple of weeks’ time. So would closing down again of the watering holes and a ban on the sale of alcohol be warranted? I am afraid that is neither a viable nor a desirable option right now. There is just too much at stake and the economy can never take the battering it has in the last five months when the sale of alcohol was prohibited.
So what can we do to navigate the new situation? I think the limited time allowed for the sale of alcohol for off-site consumption should remain. Secondly, licensed places for sit-downs should remain open, with the closing time still at 10pm. What I would change is the lax way the owners are enforcing the health protocols. All licensed establishments should be forced to have a comprehensive plan and be forced to stick to it. The seating arrangements should be altered so that social distancing protocols may be observed.
However, no one would observe social distancing in a very noisy environment – so loud music should be a definite no-no so that people can converse with one another without the need to shout over loud music or being forced to come closer in order to be heard. These may seem trivial or obvious things, but trust me when I say they were still not widely observed in the three establishments I went to last weekend.
Inspectors should go around and check whether any protective measures have been put in place by these establishments. They should check if there are any transparent shields for the cashiers at the bar, check if there are any self-standing sanitising stations and if the seating arrangements have been altered to improve social distancing. I know these would be very difficult to maintain when revellers become inebriated, but as things stand we have no option unless we want the places of entertainment to become centres of mass infection like funerals were previously.
The most important measure of all is the number of patrons within the establishment in relation to its size. While 50 has been the magic number for gatherings, in small establishments that number should be adjusted downwards and strict measures put in place to restrict the numbers. I know turning people away at the gate might seem revenue limiting, but in the long run it would be of benefit to the bottom line. If your clientele becomes infected and gets sick you would lose more money, wouldn’t you?
If your establishment becomes infamous for the infection of people, that would surely kill off your business and lead to more losses down the road. The establishment owner is the crucial person here. If he fails to protect his business by not protecting his patrons, he would have no one to blame for loss of revenue and another possible alcohol sales ban, but himself.