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PATRONS enjoying alcoholic beverages at Players Pub and Grill at Broadway Bus Station in Ndola. President Edgar Lungu announced the reopening of bars during his address to Parliament yesterday. PICTURE: STAFRANCE ZULU

Closure of bars welcome

THAT Government has ordered the closure of bars, taverns, nightclubs and casinos for 14 days with immediate effect is indeed the way to go given the unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths. In just 24 hours preceding yesterday, the country recorded 69 COVID-19 deaths. A new record high. The same day 1,093 new COVID-19 cases were recorded, bringing the cumulative number of cases recorded to date to 149,661. Currently there are 21,129 active cases, with 19,777 under community management while 1,352 are admitted to COVID-19 isolation and treatment facilities, with 243 new admissions in the last 24 hours. Among those currently under admission, 917 are on Oxygen therapy and 195 are in critical condition. As things stand now, these figures are beyond the capacity of our health care system. Hospitals are already filled to capacity. Oxygen supply is in short supply because of the high demand. Mortuaries are also filled to capacity. Medical personnel are equally overwhelmed with the high number of patients, compelling them to work day and night. This has unfortunately compromised health care because the medical personnel are not only fatigued but are limited in capacity to attend to as many patients that require attention. Under the circumstances no stone should be left unturned and it is good that Government is working in that direction. Just yesterday Lusaka City Council announced the cancellation of over 100 permits for weddings and other social events. Good move. Initially bars were allowed to operate from 18:00 hours to 22:00 hours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. This was meant to help sustain the businesses. Unfortunately, this goodwill has been taken for granted. Greed for money and profits took precedence over life. Bar owners flouted the regulations with impunity. This made these outlets perfect grounds for the spread of the pandemic. Last week, Ministry of Local Government Permanent Secretary Mathew Ngulube directed councils to conduct inspections of bars, taverns, nightclubs and casinos to check on COVID-19 compliance levels at the weekend.
This followed a spike in coronavirus cases, some of which have been linked to people socialising in such places. A report by local authorities has revealed that out of 103 premises that were inspected in five districts, only four were compliant.
Mr Ngulube said out of 28 premises that were inspected in Lusaka, only one was compliant. “The councils inspected 30 places in Samfya and none of them was compliant. In Luano district, 21 places were all non-compliant and the story is the same for 12 others in Kapiri Mposhi, while three out of 12 drinking places in Kafue adhered to the guidelines. “The picture is the same in other parts of the country. From the report, it is clear that bar and casino owners are failing to operate in line with guidelines and according to stipulated hours,” Mr Ngulube said. This is disturbing and calls for exactly the kind of action that Government has taken. Given the raging pandemic, we do not expect bar owners or patrons to behave in such an irresponsible manner.
This is a matter of life and death. Bar owners were expected to ensure that all those that visit their premises adhere to the COVID-19 regulations. We would have also expected patrons to care about their lives and those of others by ensuring that they adhere to set regulations. It is very clear that bar owners and patrons have failed not only themselves but the country as a whole. It is therefore justifiable to close these premises. We know that Government is trying by all means not to close these premises completely because of the negative economic impact on families and the nation. But the bars should help Government by doing the right thing. While the bars have been allowed to operate on a take-away basis, we cannot trust that they will adhere to these restrictions. It is good that the police have joined forces with local authorities to ensure that COVID-19 regulations are enforced not only in bars but all other public gatherings such as churches, bus stations and markets.
We urge the police and local authorities to work day and night in enforcing the regulations. They should not spare anyone found flouting the regulations regardless of status, religious or political affiliation. No one should be allowed to risk life with impunity. Life is sacred and must therefore be protected at all cost.