November 25, 2020

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Alcohol distributors appeal for reopening of bars

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Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The continued closure of bars by the government is posing more health risks to Ugandans as a number of bar operators have decided to operate illegally, according to the beverage distributors.

The distributors and wholesalers of the alcoholic drinks say that many bar owners have violated the rules since the lockdown in March but many more have so far managed to keep their activities away from authorities.

Last week, the Uganda Association of Bar Owners appealed for the reopening of their businesses, outlining the losses they had incurred over time. They said that their business generates approximately  2.8 trillion Shillings annually in revenues and have suffered a revenue loss of 1.1 trillion Shillings and continue to count losses as they remain closed.

In their plea, the operators pledged to abide by all the current and any future government measures for the health safety of their customers. On top of the standard operating procedures set by the Health Ministry, the operators pledged more measures including closing their businesses by 8 pm to enable their patrons to beat curfew time.

The also said that if reopened, each bar would have security guards ready to eject any of the customers violating the standard operating procedures as well as ensuring no loud music is played so that patrons do not have to shout while talking to each other. Others included spacing tables two metres apart and encouraging outdoor bars according to Tesfalem Gherahtu, the chairman of the Uganda Legit Bar Owners Association.

It is estimated that the bars sustain over 6.3 million people in a diverse value chain that consists of manufacturers, grain farmers, traders, transporters, among others. But the businesses has been forced to lay off staff, giving a blow to many Ugandans who are employed as cleaners, bouncers, service staff, chefs, accountants, storekeepers, security personnel, to mention but a few.

They worry that the continued closure will make the situation worse and lead to more distress as they fail to meet their credit obligations.

Now, the distributors say that the spillover effects of the closure of bars has led to losses amounting to 550 billion Shillings so far, while they have been forced to lay off as much as half of their employees. They say that the 120 distribution firms employ 1,800 Ugandans with an estimated 9,000 dependents, while distributors of spirits are even much more.

“This situation continues to escalate as the bar closure drags on for more months. We have been forced to downsize and make the painful decision to lay off employees. This is not a decision made lightly and in effect is contributing to the national unemployment burden,” they say.

Mandika Geoffrey, a distributor of spirits in the Luzira area confirms that many bars are operating stealthily which means they do not even observe any government restrictions.

Last week, the Minister for Health Jane Ruth Acheng said that for now, bars are still considered, too risky, and she referred to the other countries that attempted to reopen the industry, only to realise how bars were abetting the surge in new COVID-19 cases.

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