by Gemma Handy
Bars which reopen tomorrow without first getting official approval from health inspectors risk being immediately closed down again.
That’s the no-nonsense edict from the Central Board of Health as bars and clubs across the country prepare to welcome customers back on Wednesday.
Nightspots are the final sector given the green light by government to resume business after four months of forced closures put in place to stem Covid-19.
However only a handful have so far come forward to arrange an inspection, Chief Health Inspector Sharon Martin told Observer yesterday.
And she warned that with limited manpower, the department will be stretched to reach all of Antigua and Barbuda’s 177 bars promptly.
“Very few have called us so far – and they will be rushing by tomorrow. We will take them one bar at a time,” Martin said.
“We are encouraging them to call us. Cooperation is key; if they cooperate with us, we will work along with them.”
She said a basic inspection “shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes” providing bar owners ensure their premises are thoroughly cleaned and sanitised before health officials arrive.
Among the things they will be looking for are signs clearly informing patrons of the need to abide by social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines.
“And the place must be properly cleansed and sanitised, free of insects and rodents,” Martin said.
Bars and clubs, along with restaurants, have been beholden to maximum capacity numbers since January, which will continue to apply under the latest easing of restrictions, she confirmed.
Random checks to ensure continued adherence to the rules will also continue.
Entertainment spots were ordered to close their doors at the end of January as the country suffered a spike in coronavirus cases.
Restaurants were limited to take-out service only for several weeks, before being allowed to resume in-house dining on March 19.
Last week Cabinet announced bars and clubs could reopen on May 19 with a string of strict rules in place, including a requirement for all owners and employees to be vaccinated. The venues must also temperature check guests, monitor hand washing and keep a suitable distance between tables.
“Those bars found to be in violation of the rules will have their liquor licenses revoked, and will be compelled to shut down for long periods,” minutes from the May 12 Cabinet meeting warned.
Martin also urged bar owners to encourage their patrons to get inoculated against the virus.
“That is so important because bars are known for huge gatherings,” she said.
She continued, “After they finish eating and drinking, people should put their masks back on. And we ask that bars have tables where persons can be seated; we do not want persons standing around like before,” she explained.
Martin said it was vital venue owners complied.
“If they fail to call us for an inspection before reopening, we are going to close them down again. It’s a quick, simple exercise and we really don’t want to be going that route,” she added.
One reason for the scant response so far might be that many bars and clubs have altered their business model to suit the new environment. Some that sell food have reclassified themselves as restaurants.
Former nightclub Diamond Edge – a staple of Antigua’s after-dark scene for many years – has rebranded into a restaurant, bar and lounge open for lunch and dinner Wednesday to Sunday.
The strippers for which it was known have also long departed.
Owner Carlton Kentish told Observer the national curfew had had a devastating effect on business.
“Having to shut at 10.30pm has affected us badly because that’s when people would usually come out,” he explained.
“A lot of people have been asking if the girls will be back,” Kentish added. “I tell them I have no control over Covid so I really can’t say if that will resume.” Venue owners should call 727-7077 to arrange an inspection with the Central Board of Health prior to reopening.