It is life as usual in the cities where bar owners and imbibers are defying Covid-19 restrictions government effected on January 9 following a new wave of the pandemic which has claimed 50 people in the last 72 hours alone.
The restrictions require that bars and drinking joints operate between 2pm and 8pm and that people should just buy the alcohol and drink it at home to tame the spread of the pandemic.
Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo Banda told our sister paper Nation on Sunday on January 9 that police would be patrolling the streets to crack down on imbibers. This followed the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 announcement on the same day that it was enforcing restrictions gazetted in March last year to combat rising cases of the coronavirus.
Chimwendo Banda warned that those who will be breaching the regulations will face the full wrath of the law.
The taskforce’s other new measures include restricting public gatherings to 100 people and reducing passenger vehicles’ sitting capacity by one person per sit.
Crammed places such as drinking places and markets are considered to be hotspots for the spread of Covid-19 whose spread is tamed through wearing of face masks, social distancing, regular hand washing and use of hand sanitisers. Alcohol compromises ones judgment while it is difficult to observe social distance in a crammed place like mobile markets.
The latest Ministry of Health daily Covid update issued last night indicates that Blantyre and Lilongwe remain hotspots while Covid cases in districts are also on the rise.
Chimwendo warned that those who will be breaching the regulations will face the full wrath of the law.
Weekend Nation crew visited several bars and drinking joints in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu to sample the level of compliance with the restrictions.
In Blantyre, we visited nine locations namely Manja, Zingwangwa, Chitawira, Kamba, Chemusa, Mbayani, Chirimba, Machinjiri and Kachere where the situation was the same.
For instance, between 8pm and 9.30pm about 17 popular drinking joints we visited in Manja, Zingwangwa and Chitawira, 15 were still operating with few following preventive measures like wearing masks andkeeping distance from each other.
The situation was worse at Kachere Township where by 11pm three popular joints there were filled to capacity with no regard to the preventive procedures.
It was the same state of affairs at Chemusa where by midnight the popular bottle stores were in full swing.
But it was unanticipated of Kamba, probably the city’s most popular drinking spot, where by 12.30am all the pubs had stopped serving customers except one which resorted to using a window as an alternative counter.
“It’s tough to comply. You can imagine the pubs are all closed but people still don’t want to go home,” lamented one imbiber only identified as Lenzo.
But Blantyre Police Station spokesperson Dora Chathyoka defended the law enforcers in an interview on Friday saying “we are trying our very best to enforce the measures.”
“We can’t be everywhere due to resource constraints but during the past three days we have done so well because all the bars we have visited are now complying with opening and closing their businesses within the designated hours,” she said.
However, Chathyoka cautioned some operators who defy orders by just closing the entrance while still selling beer.
“Once caught, we will completely shut down their businesses. They are not fooling us or government but their own lives. They need to know they have a responsibility not only to take care of their lives but that of their friends as well as relatives,” she said.
In Lilongwe we visited some drinking joints in Biwi and Kawale and surrounding residential areas which were still open as late as 10 pm.
A majority of pubs at the popular Lower Biwi drinking joints were still open at 9.30pm although with low patronage. Some imbibers were seen drinking in their cars parked outside the drinking joints.
Along the six-kilometre M1 stretch from Simama Hotel to Bunda Roundabout where there are over 30 pubs about 27 were closed by 8 pm in compliance with the preventive measures.
One of the bartenders only identified as Chimwemwe said business had been affected greatly as police were regularly patrolling the M1 from 8pm.
Said Chimwemwe: “We hear some operators like in Biwi are able to do business till 11pm. But for us along the M1 we do not have that luxury.”
In Old Town, bars around Devils Street were closed and by 10pm the place was deserted. The usual deafening noise of music had long died.
In an interview National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera said some there is some resistance to the regulations as some bar owners wait for the police to storm their business premises for them to close.
In the city of Mzuzu most drinking joints we visited were open beyond the set guidelines 8pm. For example, by 10pm popular joints in Old Town were still full of activity while in Chiwabvi Township, one open and serving patrons.
The pubs had no hand washing facilities and most of the imbibers were seen without face masks and not observing social distance.
Mzuzu Police spokesperson Paul Tembo admitted that although the enforcement agency is on the ground enforcing the regulations for a week now, most bar owners reopen the moment the law enforcers leave their premises.
“But we have since arrested some four people that we found at these premises and charged them with conduct likely to cause breach of peace,” he said.
Chiponda warns against non-complaince
But Minister of Health Khumbize Chiponda bemoaned the operators who do not comply.
“The Minister of Homeland Security has been instructed to do the needful because these measures have been gazetted and that means they are now laws,” she said.
Chiponda said while every citizen has the responsibility to protect
themselves, government was not compromising on enforcement of the measures and where possible the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) will be asked to help.
“We will be engaging another gear and nobody will be spared because we are fighting an enemy we can’t see, we can’t smell, or hear it but the consolation is we can prevent it,” she said.