RESTRICTIONS on business operations were relaxed substantially in almost every sector of the economy on Saturday, with the glaring exception of the food and beverage industry, drawing further ire from stakeholders countrywide.
Newsday immediately reached Bar Owners/Operators Association of TT interim president Teron Mohan who, before Saturday’s developments, was often critical about the government’s handling of covid19 in relation to bars. In fact, he and his members filed a lawsuit earlier in the year, with regard to the restriction of their hours of operation – which was eventually extended.
But he was uncharacteristically mum after the Prime Minister’s speech in Tobago, saying he had no comment to make on the matter. Asked how soon the association will give its reaction, sounding despondent, he said it will issue a statement either on Sunday or Monday.
Bars have been allowed to operate for the past few months in a very limited capacity. Customers have been permitted to purchase drinks on a grab-and-go basis, but as with restaurants, lounging and dining are prohibited.
However, there was certain relief from TT Members Club Association president Sherry Persad, who told Sunday Newsday casino employees were thrilled with the news and have already started making plans to return to work on Monday.
The PM said casinos, gyms and cinemas will be allowed to open until 10 pm, but there are to be no drinking or eating inside them.
There, however, appears to be no restriction to drinking and eating on beaches, which he announced would open to the public from Monday.
Persad said, “We are very thankful to be open. At least we have a window for opening and we will work with it. Hopefully, when he comes back in the next two weeks we will be able to have food and drinks, but for now we are happy with his decision and we are going to work with it.
Asked if the casino she worked with still have a complement of staff to return to work, she replied, “Let me tell you, our employees are begging. You can call them one hour before (to report to work). Our industry is so plagued with people who are financially desperate and are mentally stressed out that they have been knocking on our doors and calling all the time.
She said many would have returned as soon as Saturday evening to prepare for Monday.
Persad said it was too early to tell if casinos can survive by operating with a 50 per cent capacity for the foreseeable future.
“We will get feedback from our members and see from there. We are hoping and praying that the situation around the entire country improves. Hopefully as time goes by and things go according to plan, we will be able to extend to 75 per cent capacity and eventually full capacity, once we follow the guidelines, which we intend to do.
“We don’t want to speculate but we are really happy.”
The development was especially necessary for the number of casino workers, who she claimed made requests for relief grants but did not receive them.
Operating at half-capacity means casino tables which usually have seating for six, will instead have three seats, while gaming machines that are lined up immediately next to each other will have one seat for every two machines.
Meanwhile, several of the gaming association’s members are directly invested in the beverage and restaurant industries, and as such Persad shared her thoughts on the prolonged economic effect on them and their employees.
“I was really taken aback that the restaurants and bars, too, weren’t (allowed to) open,” Persad said. “They have protocols in which they have to follow and I’m sure they would have done the same.”
The PM, prior to announcing that bars and restaurants will not join the other industries in rolling back restrictions said people who drink alcohol can behave in a “less than desirable manner,” and suggested because of this, they were less likely to comply with the health regulations.
“Two drinks and you forget about covid,” Rowley said.
Persad contended, “I’m sure they are stressed to go by (without work) for another two weeks for the employees that are employed there.”
There is the grey area, she noted, which should be addressed for the bars that have gaming machines.
“So they have gaming in a bar and if they’re not serving food and drink, you know, can gaming continue?” she asked.
The bar owners association last month raised a number of concerns, amongst them, the inability for them to allow patrons the use of gaming machines despite the fact that they are expected to pay associated fees and taxes.
One of the worst casualties throughout the pandemic is undoubtedly the movie theatre industry, which was among the earliest to ordered close. Owner of MovieTowne’s cinema chain, Derek Chin, was recently closed the Chaguanas franchise after 10 years in operation. In a statement, he attributed the closure to the immediate restrictions, uncertainly surrounding the future of the pandemic, and a “difficult landlord.”
Sunday Newsday was unable to reach him yesterday to ascertain whether the latest developments might see any reversal of fortunes for the Chaguanas branch.
In a CNC3 interview, Chin said the decision was decision was disappointing.
“We are on the brink. The decision is disappointing because it does not make sense to reopen cinemas while preventing the purchase and consumption of food and drink while there. What is the experience going to be like coming to a movie without having the opportunity to have some popcorn and a drink or a candy bar, or whatever, it takes away from the whole experience of why we go out. Cinema owners have sent letters to the government with their recommendations.
“They have shared reports that said cinemas have not been sites of infection across the pandemic but their advice has been ignored. We were looking even at 30 per cent because we have cinemas that are pretty large, 200 seats, 300 seats, and even when we open earlier in the year, that fact that we weren’t getting content, we weren’t receiving new releases, a lot of people didn’t bother to come added to the fear that they had. The hospitality industry cannot survive another two weeks closed under the current system.”
Ingrid Jahra, CEO of Cinema One’s Digicel IMAX, also could not be reached for her reactions to the roll-back measures.