It’s time to open up, restaurant operators say, ask President to lift curfew

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Restaurant operators have asked President Uhuru Kenyatta to consider removing the curfew and allowing them to operate longer to allow the revival of the the economy slowed down by the pandemic.

At a press conference in Nairobi, the Pubs, Entertainment, and Restaurants Association of Kenya (PERAK) said the entertainment sector has been left out as others benefit from the relaxation of the laws to limit the spread of the pandemic.

Perak Nairobi Chapter chairman Frank Mbogo said players in the sector are convinced that now is the time to lift the curfew and other restrictions that have since March 2020 resulted in the loss of livelihoods in the hard-hit sector.

“The actions of our leaders and elected representatives suggest that the protocols rolled out to limit the spread of Covid-19 are not necessary. Over the past month, presidential candidates have been holding rallies and meetings across the country to popularize themselves ahead of the elections,” said Mr Mbogo.

Players in the hospitality sector are particularly irked by the impunity displayed by political leaders, many of whom have embarked on large-scale campaigns.

Perak was of the view that with medical professionals supporting the calls to lift the curfew and for more focus to be on vaccination and to impose strict measures only when there is an upsurge in infections.

Covid-19 infection rates have been below 5 per cent over the last three weeks and increased vaccinations have given hope that the pandemic could slow down substantially enough for the protocols to be relaxed.

“There has been a rapid increase in vaccinations across the country and there is an evident effort to not only get more vaccines in the country but to get them to more people. This demonstrates the direction the country needs to go and the next phase of dealing with the pandemic,” said Michael Muthami Perak national chairman.

Mr Muthami said many bar and restaurant operators continue to suffer harassment at the hands of the police as they enforce the protocols.

“It is manifestly unfair to have one section of society freely breaking the law while another suffers at the hands of the law enforcement. The entertainment sector remains the only one facing restrictions as all other sectors are open – matatus are operating at full capacity, supermarkets and other markets are open and churches are open and functioning normally,” said Mr Muthami.

The operators’ call came a day after President Uhuru Kenyatta said the curfew would be lifted soon, but there were concerns that without a definite timeline, the sector will continue to suffer.

More than 15,000 bars and restaurants have been shut since the onset of the pandemic, rendering an estimated 90,000 workers jobless, with the livelihoods of others in the value chain – fresh produce suppliers, taxi operators, food vendors – also affected. Excise revenue levied on beer, wines and spirits reduced by 19% in 2020, with the decline attributed to the impact of the restrictions on sale of alcohol compounded by the increase in excise taxes.

Simon Njoroge, the chairman of the Bar, Hotel and Liquor Traders Association said along with the big hotels that have closed because of the pandemic have been much smaller ones.

“Our appeal now is to the President to allow us to resume work so that we can continue contributing to the country’s economic growth. We are not even talking about an extension of the hours but about full reopening,” said Mr Njoroge.

Alcohol manufacturers last week asked the Government to consider increasing operating hours for bars by two hours.

Restaurant are now allowed to operate up to 9pm.