Bahrain's sheesha cafe owners 'reeling under impact of virus clamp'

Government support directed at the private sector since the start of the outbreak has not benefited the sheesha serving sector

  

Business owners have issued a plea to reopen cafes and restaurants serving sheesha under strict health and safety guidelines.

A total of 102 of 500 registered sheesha outlets in the country have signed a petition that details the financial losses incurred by the establishments as a result of being closed for nearly three months to combat the spread of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Under the Business Continuity Support Programme, Tamkeen has been providing financial support ranging between BD1,050 and BD12,000 for three months to adversely affected small and micro enterprises.

However, the business owners said this was not enough and it barely covered part of their operational costs, as many of them are struggling to stay afloat.

“We have no income coming in for three months and yet we are still paying wages, labour accommodations and rent in most cases, as the financial support from Tamkeen of BD350 per month is not helping,” stated the petition.

“We will follow strict rules, more than any other country that has allowed the continuation of such a service, and we will agree to be directly monitored and inspected by the Health Ministry.

“Business takes time to pick up and for our customers to return and we are seeking consideration of our welfare, our families and employees.”

The GDN reported last month that businesses in Bahrain that have been hit by closure since March due to the coronavirus pandemic were prepared to enforce stringent precautionary measures to combat the spread.

Non-essential businesses were allowed to reopen last month along with salons and barber shops, however, gyms, fitness studios, massage parlours, recreational facilities, cinemas and sheesha cafes have been closed over fears that social distancing could not be observed.

Fears

However, Parliament’s financial and economic affairs committee chairman Ahmed Al Salloom, who is also board member of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), said all indications showed that these outlets were prepared to resume operations.

“Customers will have to buy the equipment for the sheesha or take the disposable pipes and mouth pieces which will be provided,” said Mr Al Salloom, who owns a chain of sheesha coffee shops in Bahrain and is also the chairman of the Bahrain Small and Medium Enterprises Development Society.

“All places will be disinfected hourly and no customer will be allowed unless temperatures are checked.”

Meanwhile, Al Basha sheesha cafe owner Ebrahim Al Ouwainati explained that the government support directed at the private sector since the start of the outbreak has not benefited the sheesha serving sector.

“We have zero income and can’t operate delivery or online services, while we continue to pay at least BD3,000 for our expat labourers’ wages and accommodation, as Tamkeen is paying a standard support of BD350 monthly,” he said.

“Our outlets have been closed since March 16 so most exemptions or payments have not benefited us.

“We are legitimate businesses and our continuation should be a government responsibility.”

The petition has been addressed to His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Premier, along with Parliament chairwoman Fouzia Zainal.

mohammed@gdn.com.bh

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