LOCAL Government Minister Charles Banda says casinos and restaurants which have licences to sell alcohol can go ahead, provided they adhere to the public health guidelines such as social distancing and mandatory masking.

And Dr Banda has warned casinos and restaurants to resist the temptation to turn their premises into bars or night clubs because the law wont spare them.

Speaking at a media briefing, Monday, Dr Banda said there was no harm in restaurants and casinos holding liquor licenses to sell alcohol to their clients.

“As you may recall, His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zambia Edgar Chagwa Lungu in his address to the nation on Friday 8th May, 2020 directed the cautious and strategic reopening of certain sector of the economy. The call to open certain sectors of the economy is in a bid that people’s livelihoods and sources of income are preserved in the context of the new normal, living with COVID-19. This, however, calls for strengthened enforcement by all councils to ensure strict adherence to ensure public health guidelines and regulations on COVID-19,” Dr Banda said.

“The institutions allowed to operate, we are talking about are casinos and restaurants, need do so with strict compliance and in the confines of the licences which they hold. If somebody is holding a licence for a restaurant and they also have permission and they have licence to sell liquor, there will be no harm for them to serve alcohol to the clients in that restaurant. Get this very clear!”

And Dr Banda warned that local authorities would not hesitate to revoke licences of any restaurants and casinos that would want to take advantage of the situation by trying to operate as bars or night clubs.

“I want to emphasize that no restaurant or casino will be allowed to operate as a bar or night club. You are not going to take advantage of this situation to turn a restaurant into a bar. You are holding a licence for a restaurant and you are permitted to sell alcohol in your restaurant; you are not going to change the operations and turn your restaurant into a bar. We are going to close you down and we will revoke your licence. Similarly, casinos we have not said casinos should become nightclubs; we have allowed from what His Excellency the President has directed that casinos will operate according to licences that you hold as a casino but you are not going to be a night club. Bars are still pending, we are not going to open bars using the names of casino,” he said.

“So, councils will not relent in ensuring that they undertake spontaneous and regular inspections of the premises allowed to operate. Should any of them, I want to repeat, that should any of them decide to operate outside the restrictions of licences, they risk having their licences revoked.”

Dr Banda said both restaurants and casinos should downsize their accommodation capacity in order to meet the required public health guidelines.

“Questions being asked include like how then can you regulate the number of people in a restaurant? It is very easy! You know the sitting capacity in your restaurant. If in the normal circumstance before the COVID-19 you used to sit 80 people, it is very easy for you now to reduce to 40 people so that now you introduce social distancing. You remove half of the sitting arrangement and then provide for the remaining half. Then it will be very easy for you to police and ensure that you enforce the one metre apart social distancing. It is very easy, you don’t even need the council to come and say remove this chair and put this chair at this distance; you can do it on your own to help us to help yourselves so that your business can thrive,” Dr Banda said.
“Similarly, even in casinos, if you knew that your capacity was 200, you can make it in such a way that you limit it to 50 and below and ensure that people are sitting apart; self regulation before we even come in to enforce. We don’t want to come on to you to intimidate or to quarrel with you. I don’t think that is the spirit that we work in. We would like everybody else to realize that this fight is for all of us. Help us. You are also stakeholders as business people because this disease is not going to select. It may come through the same casino it, it may come through the same restaurant where you are if we are going to be careless, how will you handle these issues.”

Dr Banda government was not being selective in its measures by not opening bars as certain measures were still being worked out.

“So, let’s try to observe the measures that have been spelt out in all these areas that have been allowed to start operating. Those that have not yet been permitted, should not feel like they are being segregated, certain things are still being worked out. The President was very clear he said he will be a review after seven days or slightly after more than that seven days. Who knows, the other decision may favor you at that point but we need to be cautious as we move forward to ensure that we are doing the right thing and that we giving the right advice to all of you that are involved in these economic activities. We are not there to punish anybody; government is not there to punish anybody. If anything, we are so worried for you because we would like you to keep providing that employment which you always provided for our people. And we believe that the best is yet to come,” said Dr Banda.