Dr Patrick Antoine

The chairman of the T&T Beverage Alcohol Alliance (TTBAA) says the sector was extremely disappointed with the decision by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to continue restrictions on dine-in services at bars and restaurants.

Speaking on CNC3’s the Morning Brew, Dr Patrick Antoine said since the COVID-19 pandemic caused lockdowns in T&T, over 300 bars have closed. He said that number was expected to increase over the next two weeks and over 100,000 employees of the sector are being affected.

Antoine said the TTBAA has been training bar operators and their staff with the best practices for operating during the pandemic.

He suggested that T&T should adopt the system practised in Barbados, where compliance officers are tasked with ensuring bars and restaurants adhere to the public health guidelines.

“It’s really important because you don’t want to continue punishing really solid entities that have done the right thing and continue to languish because they are not being given the opportunity to benefit from the very heavy investments they have made,” Antoine said.

“The PM’s concerns are not without merit but we believe that those are things that can be handled through training and certification, where bar owners understand that there is a real and present danger that they may be closed or where if they are complained about, the license may be pulled or they may be fined, we believe that a number of operators will ensure that their operations are compliant.”

He said the TTBAA has invested in a hotline for reporting errant bar operators but it was suffering because there was not enough collaboration with the T&T Police Service (TTPS).

“We have a hotline in place but it suffers from a deficit of not being linked in a reasonable timeframe with the resources the TTPS has in place and we believe that just extending it so that when there is a complaint, we can refer that complaint to the TTPS will make a tremendous difference.”

Antoine said most bar owners were willing to adhere to guidelines and the TTBAA wants to start a public campaign to educate patrons on the consequences of not complying.

“This week is time for us to step up and try to consolidate what we’ve learned, put into practice, by reaching out to the police, the Ministry of Health and reaching out to the patrons, it’s a societal problem and we are doing more and more to develop education and awareness that we can share with the public, so that someday when the bars are opened, we can remind them that we are in a pandemic and that success in remaining open depends on them.”

Antoine said in addition to continuing their lobbying with the Minister of Health and Prime Minister, the TTBAA will be meeting with the TTPS this week to discuss how best they could learn from the mistakes of the past and move forward.