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High and dry, pubs must reinvent drinking game

By Allan Mungai | September 30th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

The new sitting arrangement at Sabina Joy Club, in Nairobi.

They were first establishments to feel the full wrath of Covid-19 pandemic, with measures against them scaled up routinely, until they were finally closed down for good.

And now, with the bar experience almost falling within the range of a throwback, all beer lovers are finally happy that President Uhuru Kenyatta lifted restrictions on the sale of alcohol and allowed clubs and pubs to partially open.

On Monday, President Kenyatta allowed pubs to resume operations as part of measures to re-open the economy.

Pubs will carry the biggest burden of the containment measures given the wide range of opportunities to spread infection.

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Across the world, the Covid-19 pandemic is causing establishments to rethink the way they operate in order to survive. And with the reality that this may last for a while, pubs are beginning to rethink their models.

New measures introduced to limit interaction between patrons include plexiglass barriers between booths, limiting the time patrons have at the table, no bar seating, and reducing capacity to enforce social-distancing or reducing hours of operation.

That is in addition to introducing thermometers to check patrons’ temperatures at the door, setting up sanitising stations, and creating disposable menus. In some countries in Europe where pubs have been given the go-ahead to open, the establishments are reimagining their physical spaces by extending their seating space to the pavements.

Outside seating is not uncommon in Nairobi with a number of clubs in the CBD synonymous with setting tables on the pavement and at times on the roads, for their patrons when the club gets busy.

In London, specific streets are now closed to vehicles at specific hours allowing restaurants, clubs and pubs to offer more socially distanced seating outside.

Other clubs are asking patrons to provide personal details, including mobile phone numbers that can be used for contact tracing should a case of Covid-19 be identified.

Boniface Gachoka, the Bars, Hotels and Liquor Traders Association of Kenya secretary-general, is worried about the survival of small pubs.

“These are the small establishments that sell alcohol and we estimate that they make up about 70 per cent. Since they are very small we are going to lose the majority of them if the government does not do something urgently,” Gachoka said before the government lifted restrictions.

He is, nevertheless, optimistic that self-regulating procedures pubs were asked to come up with would encourage the government that the establishments can be Covid-19 safe.

One of the solutions that the association feels will assure the government and the public that overcrowding and breach of coronavirus rules may lead to a spike in cases is an initiative known as Bar Kumi that borrows heavily from the Nyumba Kumi initiative.

“We have come with groups of pubs that are close to each other and each will have the responsibility to ensure they comply,” he said.

Accommodate their patrons

Pubs that break the protocols will face the risk of closure.

However, before the case is escalated to the Ministry of Health, the bar owners’ association will use its own disciplinary mechanisms to punish the bars.

Bar Kumi will also involve the manufacturers and distributors who will be compelled to stop supplying alcohol to pubs that consistently breach the regulations.

Other measures which are already in practise at Sabina Joy and Modern Green clubs include the installation of plexiglass on the bar counter and marking the bar counter off bounds, hand sanitation stations, markers placed on the floor to ensure guests stay apart and checking of temperatures at the door.

Patrick Muya, a trustee of the Pubs, Entertainment, and Restaurants Association of Kenya said the social distancing guidelines would change how pubs and restaurants accommodate their patrons.

“Packed pubs and clubs will disappear. Unventilated indoor pubs will no longer be attractive and outlets with terrace and outdoor seating will have an advantage,” he said.

Covid-19 pandemic President Uhuru Kenyatta
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