Kuching pub owners drowning in sorrow due to prolonged Covid-19 shutdown

Ben cleans up and checks his audio mixing console in his pub which has been closed for months.

KUCHING (Dec 17): Local pub owners are hoping that they will be allowed to reopen soon with Sarawak now recording zero or single digit Covid-19 cases daily.

One of them, Ben Binel said the pub owners are faced with mounting financial pressure as they had no income to keep up with payment of rent and workers salaries as well as to renew their license.

“Most of us have exhausted our savings to sustain our business premises while waiting for the greenlight to operate again.

“We were happy when we were allowed to reopen on August 15 after being closed for five months following the Movement Control Order (MCO). It had allowed us to earn some income again, but it was just a short respite as all pubs are ordered to close again on Oct 28.

“We hope the government, especially Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC), will allow us to reopen. And we will give our fullest cooperation to ensure compliance to the standard operating procedures (SOPs),” he said.

Ben also said many of the pub owners found it unfair that bistros were allowed to operate despite selling the same items as pubs and playing music in their premises.

“We spent a lot of our own money to clean up our premises and buying sanitisers as we followed the SOPs when we were first allowed to reopen (on Aug 15). We even rearranged our tables and seats to ensure physical distancing is observed.

“We even prepared MySejahtera QR Code for customers to check in before entering our premises. We sanitise the microphone before being passed to the customer when they want to sing karaoke. We have in fact followed the SOPs required,” he said.

He also pointed out that the authorities should not impose a total ban on pubs just because of the irresponsible acts of a few bad apples in the sector.

Another pub owner Alice Ningkan said their financial worry is more than just about paying salaries, rental and license.

She said they too have to pay fees linked to song copyrights such as fees collected by Music Authors’ Copyright Protection (MACP) for songs played in their premises.

“So, by not being allowed to operate this long is causing stress to us pub owners. I hope the government will listen to our problems, instead of making us hang in the balance like this,” she said.

She concurred with Ben that there was a short relief when pubs were allowed to reopen from Aug 15 to Oct 28, although business was not as good as before with them only allowed to operate until 12 midnight.

“If we are allowed to reopen soon and if the situation is better, we do hope that our operation hours can be extended to at least an hour more until 1am,” she added.

Echoing Alice’s sentiments, another pub owner Julia Daep said business had slowed down when her pub reopened from Aug 15 to Oct 28, but she believed it can pick up when the situation is better.

She said she had spent money not just to ensure her business premises comply with the SOP but also for the maintenance of the sound system and lighting in the pub.

“When not in use for a long period, the sound system can get spoilt. Also, I suffer financial losses as I have to replenish the stock of beverages as some of them were found to have expired when the pub was closed,” she said.

SDMC had earlier announced that all nightclubs, pubs, karaoke outlets and reflexology centres have been ordered to close starting Oct 28 until further notice.

In another announcement on Nov 27, SDMC said the entertainment sector which includes nightclubs, pubs, karaoke outlets and reflexology centres across the state are still not permitted to operate during the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO).

However, SDMC has now allowed reflexology, spa and wellness centres to resume business starting Dec 7 with new SOPs, leaving the entertainment sector as probably the only business sector not allowed to reopen during this RMCO.


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