DESPITE bars being able to stay open until 10 pm from Monday, the Barkeepers and Operators Association (BOATT) wants the Health Ministry to know "it doesn't end there."
The association will not be withdrawing its legal case against the government.
Last month, when reports emerged that customers were crowding bars and not practising social distancing, bars were told to close at 8 pm rather than 10 pm.
This led to protests at the Queen’s Park Savannah opposite the Office of the Prime Minister. And on Wednesday, 316 bar owners, along with the association, received the court’s permission to challenge Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh's decision. They are represented by attorneys Anand Ramlogan SC, Renuka Rambhajan, Ganesh Saroop, and Douglas Bayley, who contended the regulations are unconstitutional and discriminatory.
They are seeking compensation and several declarations, including that the decision by the minister to reduce the opening hours of bars was illegal and irrational. They are also challenging Regulation 3 (2) of the public health coronavirus ordinance as being of no legal effect and against their rights.
Deyalsingh announced the decision to allow the bars to open until 10 pm again at a virtual press conference on Saturday morning. He said the decision was based on "surveillance" over the past weeks.
“We are asking again as we do this measure, both patrons and bar owners use the opportunity to continue to play their part in operating and using these facilities responsibly.”
He added that it is difficult to wear masks in a bar setting, but patrons should try their best to practise physical distancing.
The existing public health regulations are due to expire on Sunday he said, adding that Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi is drafting the updates.
But speaking with Sunday Newsday on Saturday afternoon, interim president of BOATT Teron Mohan said while he was pleased with that particular decision, there's still a long way to go.
"We are not withdrawing (the case), because now it has to go to levels of compensation, and in addition to that, the occupancy needs to be revisited also.
"We wanted the same fairness as restaurants. Restaurants can have more people. We are limited to 25, so for those of us operating larger bars, it still poses a problem."
Asked if he felt the decision to revert the closing time was made in hopes that the association would drop its case, he said, "If it was, then they supposed to understand by now that it didn't just stop there.
"I cannot say what their motives were. I want to believe – well, I am confident that we put enough pressure on them, especially due to the fact that...nobody wants to go to court."
Also speaking with Sunday Newsday,
owner of Nari's On D' Avenue, Barataria, said it is a welcome change. But he too agreed further relaxations are needed.
"I am happy for everybody else because, just like myself, all of us were suffering with this 8 pm (closing time).
"It has been rough, but I used the time to upgrade my business with the necessary work that needed to be done. And to be honest, I didn't miss the days. It was 99 days, yes, but I get time to do things I never thought I would get time to do."
He added that the closure of bars specifically at 8 pm was unfair.
"I have seen things happening, I've been to places and seen everybody up in each other face, and the authorities are not looking into that. I feel they were targeting bar owners, which is not right."
He said he hopes the economy can be reopened entirely before the August 10 general election, adding that borders should still remain closed.
But reverting tot he issue of bars, he said, "The 25 people on the inside is not good enough. Because even up until 10 pm, it still don't pay the bills. We have a lot of bills to pay, just like everybody else.
Krishna Toolsie, owner of Coconut Bar in Barataria, said, "It good for the people who have their gambling. They have to pay their tax and whatnot and all of that. In we case, we have no gambling, so it ain't really affect we. We close 6.30 pm or 7 pm, so..."
And Mukesh Ramnath, owner of Kash Highway Bar, San Juan, said his bar was "losing a lot" by having to close at 8 pm. He said while he would have preferred 11 pm or midnight, it was great that they could go until 10 pm. He also said it was unfair that bars that had the word "restaurant" attached to their names were allowed to open until 10 pm because people left his bar every night to continue drinking there. People went places they never went before for the extra two hours, he complained, got comfortable there and adapted to the new place. He was concerned they would stay. "We were losing a lot of customers that way. So it was a bit unfair and unjustified."