SPANISH bar owners across Andalucia are continuing to blast the loosening of coronavirus restrictions which they claim has done little to nothing to help the hospitality industry.
Under the two-phase plan announced over a week ago, until December 17 all establishments must remain closed until 6pm, before being allowed to open for an extra two-and-a-half hour window (8:00pm to 10:30pm) from December 18 to January 10.
Meanwhile, shops have been allowed to open until 9pm since December 12.
“I am completely against the measures brought in,” Jesus Leal, owner of Pub Charles in Marbella, told the Olive Press.
“It is unacceptable to continue to place these restrictions solely on bars and restaurants.”
Leal, 67, has been running the cocktail bar in the heart of San Pedro since 1982.
A favourite among expats and locals, the bar has survived several economic crashes, but Leal does not know if it will get through a pandemic like COVID-19.
“The measures are going to destroy nightlife and cocktail venues, and not because they accelerate the virus,” the grandfather added, “But because of the Government’s poor management of the crisis… this is the stupidest thing they have ever done.
“They have taken away all of our customers and effectively sent them to shops to buy alcohol to celebrate in their homes with their friends instead.
“And it is in the supermarkets and the homes and drinking parties on the street where the infections occur.”
Indeed a study of over 8,000 infections by the Ministry of Health in October backed up this idea, finding that less than 3% of cases following the first nationwide lockdown came from the hospitality industry – while 40% came from family reunions.
But recent data from Andalucia has painted a different story.
Up until October 1, some 30% of outbreaks in the southernmost region originated in nightlife venues and restaurants, that is, 147 of the 481 infection clusters.
But since that date, which is when president Juanma Moreno ordered the closure of establishments in the afternoons, and until November 29, that percentage share dropped to 5%, reported Diario de Sevilla.
That figure change is why bars and restaurants have seen the least restrictions lifted, although it has proven costly for Moreno’s government, which now finds itself in a public battle with the industry.
The largest hospitality federation in the region, Horeca, has formally withdrawn its support for the conservative government and has warned it is planning protests.
Two councillors labelled Horeca’s reaction as ‘excessive’ and ‘incomprehensible’, ‘especially given that other regions have seen total closures for weeks on end, including Catalunya, Navarra, Aragon and the Basque Country.’
The government said it could have let establishments open until 8pm only but they would have missed dinner, which is what they wanted to save, particularly over the Christmas period.
The Vice President of the Government, Juan Marin, stressed that businesses will still be able to open 14 hours each day, including for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
But for bars which usually open until 3am or 4am, that doesn’t offer much solace.
“The measures are crazy,” Juanjo Alcarin, owner of Dilema bar in Sevilla, told the Olive Press this week, “it’s as if between 6pm and 8pm the virus only shows up in bars, not on the metro or in the shops etc.”
The businessman believes establishments like his are being unfairly painted as hotbeds of coronavirus infection.
“If the hospitality industry was a hotspot, there should have been thousands of waiters hospitalised,” he added.
The regional government opposition has jumped to support the industry, with PSOE leader Susana Diaz saying she shares its ‘indignation’ for the ‘nonsense.’
The Socialists have established good communication with the Horeca federation and had already been attacking the lack of aid provided to the sector.
Alcarin previously told this paper at the end of October how his business, located on the Alameda, a popular strip packed with bars and restaurants in the heart of Sevilla, was ‘unworkable’ when occupancy rates were reduced to 50% and earlier closing hours were imposed.
“We have had practically no help from the Government, we have lost since March 14 €40,000…there is a €900 aid from the Junta to rent but if you are autonomo (self-employed) with a business, nothing!”
“These measures are atrocious for us as a business, it’s a financial disaster,” Jackie Quick-Rice, 60, from near Glasgow, told the Olive Press.
“On Christmas Day for example customers will come for lunch then go home and not come back out, and on New Year’s I have a buffet and have sold 30 tickets but I will have to kick them out at 10:30pm, we might as well forget about it.
“The curfew should also be extended on December 25 and we should have been allowed to stay open until 1:00am on at least New Year’s, that is what most bars were expecting, it’s what we needed in this financial climate.”
Quick-Rice said Fuengirola will be a ghost town ‘within six weeks’ due to the rapid closure of businesses.
“A lot of businesses are on their last legs, so many businesses are closing, it’s absolutely shocking,” she said.
But the industry could be in for even more bad news as a meeting between the regions of Spain and the central Government this week could see tougher restrictions brought back just as they were about to be loosened.
Several regions have seen worrying increases in cases over the past week, believed to be partly due to the long bank holiday weekend at the start of December which would have seen many family reunions.
The meeting will be held on Wednesday before the Junta de Andalucia will have its own meeting on Thursday.