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Protesting restaurant owners demand relaxation in coronavirus-related SOPs

By Our Correspondent
December 04, 2020

All Pakistan Restaurant Association (APRA) protested against the coronavirus-related Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) outside the Karachi Press Club on Thursday.

Demanding permission to run their businesses “properly”, the association said millions of workers associated with the restaurant industry were worried about their job security. Hundreds of restaurant owners who gathered outside the press club said if their demands were not met, they would protest outside the Governor House, the Chief Minister House and the Commissioner House in Karachi.

“We only demand justice with the restaurant industry,” a protester said. Holding placards inscribed with their demands, such as the restaurants should be permitted to remain open at least until midnight, they lamented how political parties violated SOPs themselves in their processions and public rallies and only enforced SOPs at restaurants “by curbing our businesses”.

If all citizens are equal before the law, they asked why restaurant owners in Karachi were being treated differently from their counterparts in the rest of the country. “Just like wedding hall owners, we demand to allow us to continue our businesses properly,” a protester said.

Some protesters held placards against the district administration and their attitude towards the restaurant industry. They said “the mindless crackdown of the district administration” against restaurants in the city should come to an end.

“Our businesses are dying. We can’t pay our workers and the district administration don’t stop imposing heavy fines on us,” said one of the restaurant owners and demanded Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Ali Shallwani and the Sindh government to look into the matter. A worker of the restaurant pointed out that the ruling PPP in Sindh had held “huge political processions throughout the country” but was bent on “destroying our industry”.

APRA’s general secretary Saman Aleem said they were facing an unprecedented challenge to cope with Covid-19 pandemic. “The APRA has always educated it all members to follow the government decisions and guidelines. The restaurants were the first to close in March as some of us could not survive the four months of lockdown due to a lack of support by the government,” he said adding that with the recent decision of the closure of dining services, most restaurants would face closure and millions of people would be unemployed if the government did not involve stakeholders in their decisions.

“We will have to live with Covid-19 for at least another six months. We believe only restaurants are being targeted because all other businesses, such as factories, malls, offices, retail stores, and air and land transport, are operating in a closed environment. Even political rallies, processions are still being held without any SOPs.”

He requested Prime Minister Imran Khan and the National Command and Control Authority chairman to allow indoor dining with limited seating and proper ventilation, permitting outdoor timings beyond 10pm “as it’s the peak time for their business and with limited sales, the restaurants will not be able to pay heavy rents and salaries.” He asked the government to provide relief on turnover tax for the year 2020 and announce immediate relief on electricity for the restaurant sector.

The association also requested Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah to authorise takeaways and delivery to operate for 24 hours in the city “as it is allowed all over the country, direct the local administration in Karachi to stop imposing heavy fines and harassing their members and allow them for outside dining as has been allowed in Punjab”.