The association representing local restaurant and bar owners say many of its members have either closed their businesses permanently or are planning to. “The coronavirus has been a killer to our establishments and the government is making things worse with its curfew decisions,” says Luis Sanmartín, Cuenca Association of Bars & Restaurants board member.
Sanmartín is particularly concerned by Friday’s decision by the Cuenca Emergency Operations Committee to request that the national COE allow Cuenca to begin its nightly curfew at 7 p.m. and ban the sale of liquor after dark. Nationwide, the curfew for cities under yellow light restrictions, including Cuenca, is 11 p.m. with no restriction on the sale of alcohol.
“We have many members who are just reopening, who are beginning to hire back their employees, and these rules will shut them down again and force them to fire the staff,” Sanmartín says. “Many of these businesses are on the brink of bankruptcy already and extending the curfew will put many of them on the list of permanent closures.”
He says that beginning the curfew at 7 p.m. will eliminate nighttime meal service which was allowing some restaurants to reopen and rehire employees.
Restaurants were allowed to reopen table service at the beginning of June but bars and night clubs remain closed. Restaurants are restricted to 30 percent seating capacity under yellow light rules.
The Cuenca COE claims that the new curfew hours and alcohol ban are needed to control nighttime gatherings it says are spreading Covid-19. On Monday, the restaurant and bar association announced it is petitioning the national COE to reject the Cuenca request for additional restrictions.
César Pacheco, owner of a historic district restaurant, criticized the local COE for ignoring the economic crisis facing the city. “They say they are concerned about unemployment and people going hungry but they are focusing entirely on hospital rooms and ignoring the businesses and the workers,” he says.
Pacheco says the city’s estimate that 11,000 workers are out of work due to the coronavirus is “absurd.” “In the hospitality industry alone — restaurants, bars, hotels and hostels — there are 12,000 or 13,000 who have lost their jobs. If you want an accurate unemployment number for the city, multiply that by five or six.”
Sanmartín says the local COE should develop a plan that allows the city to live with Covid-19. “We have to adjust to the new reality and understand that the virus will be with us, probably for years. We need to recognize that it is much less dangerous than we originally thought. Businesses must be allowed to reopen and people must be allowed to work or the damage will be much worse than the virus.”
Sanmartín said that one third of the restaurants in the association say they are closed for good while more than half of the bar and lounge owners have closed operations.