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Bar owners seek eatery licences to remain open

Harrison White / Khmer Times Share:
Customers sit and drink on Street 308, also known as Bassac Lane, a popular drinking spot for tourists, foreign residents and locals. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Khmer Times has found several bars that are getting around COVID-19 closures by changing their registration licences from “bar” to “restaurant” using surrounding food service menus and food app deliveries to justify the change.

The allegations were investigated after several previous and well known “bars” reopened over the past month as “restaurants”, leaving authorities unable to enact forced closures set by the Ministry of Health in March.

The reopened establishments are now advertising food menus, daily drink specials and following hygiene guidelines as required by the Ministry of Health such as temperature checks, hand sanitisers and facial masks at their front doors.

Under the Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Tourism licensing laws, an existing business can apply to have their current licence changed for a relatively small fee. According to the Ministry of Tourism, a “restaurant” is defined as an establishment that “serves food and beverages, having waiters and waitresses serve several times”.

One such local bar owner, who requested to remain anonymous, said he decided to change his bar to a restaurant last month after he heard the Ministry of Health was going to allow restaurants and cafes to remain open during the pandemic.

“Although my venue doesn’t have a working kitchen, I was able to meet the food requirements of the restaurant license by mirroring a menu from a nearby restaurant.”

“If a customer wants to eat food I use my mobile application to get the dish delivered, then have one of my waitresses transfer the food from the takeaway packaging onto a plate and provide the customer with metal cutlery.”

It was also been noted that a number of bars are simply defying the ban by appearing to be closed, with their front lights turned off and having customers enter and leave through back doors.

Khmer Times reached out to both the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Tourism who are responsible for issuing the licenses – but did not receive a reply in time for print.

Bars, clubs and KTVs have remained shut since March 17 by the Ministry of Health in response to the surge of COVID-19 cases in the Kingdom at the time, leading to the widespread displacement of workers in the entertainment industry.

In response to the ongoing closures Health Minister Mam Bun Heng recently said, although Cambodia has effectively curbed the spread of coronavirus in the country, the possibility of a second wave of infections remains on the horizon.

Constant vigilance must be exercised in Cambodia as several countries continue to struggle to contain the virus she said, adding: “If you want to sing, you can do it at home with your family; not in karaoke bars.”

Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation president Ou Tep Phallin said the approximately 80,000 workers of entertainment establishments – most of which employ women – have borne the brunt of the nationwide closures.

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