EDITORIAL: Reopening bars needs sober and firm steps


President Uhuru Kenyatta. FILE PHOTO | NMG

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive that the Health ministry and bar owners jointly develop special health safety guidelines on drinking in public places has expectedly elicited excitement among businesses that have been shut for months to curb the spread of Covid-19.

To bar and restaurant owners, the development brings hope of resuming operations and recouping lost business and investment.

On Monday, the Pubs and Restaurants Association of Kenya (Perak) committed to cut sitting capacity to half and implement a contact-free billing as part of compliance to curb the spread of the virus.

While this is a good sign in the effort to curb the spread of coronavirus, lifting the ban on drinking in public places should be handled cautiously to avoid the risk of reversing the gains made.

A key concern is that ensuring full compliance by all bar owners would be a tall order going by the recent incidents where some establishments have been busted blatantly flouting the health safety rules.

Although one may argue that these are isolated cases, it matters because the risk burden from just one infected reveller is huge and cannot be wished away.

For meaningful impact, there should be discipline and consistency in compliance by all bars, clubs, and restaurants.

The experience in the US should perhaps offer lessons as Kenya works towards reopening bars.

The inconsistent and haphazard reopening of bars in the US contributed to an upswing in infections and now some cities are backtracking by closing dining rooms and bars once again after their own staff contracted the virus.

The reopening of bars and other businesses should, therefore, be done cautiously and in an organised manner bearing in mind that coronavirus still lurks and any form of recklessness could come with regrettable consequences.

The draw-up of guidelines for re-opening of bars, also offers an opportunity to review compliance levels in other sectors such as public transport.

Some public service vehicle operators are flouting health safety regulations including social-distancing and use of face masks and hand sanitisers with abandon. It must stop.