Drinkers have had to play hide and seek with police while drinking at illegal taverns or open spaces turned into drinking spots

Zimbabwe is allowing bars to reopen for the first time in more than a year, but only fully vaccinated people will be allowed to take a swig from inside the premises, AP reports.

The southern African country closed pubs and nightclubs in March 2020 as part of restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 and had ignored pleas by owners to ease the restrictions to rescue their collapsing businesses.

“It is a huge relief,” Faith Masiya, a director of FC Lounge in the eastern city of Mutare, said Wednesday. “Being closed for more than a year wasn’t a joke, it nearly killed our business. We had a lot of overheads to meet like salaries, trading license fees, water and electricity bills.”

Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said the decision to open pubs and nightclubs was out of “concern” that “the continued closure of licensed bars and nightclubs has caused not only a loss of income and unemployment but also resulted in the mushrooming of illegal outlets.”

Before the decision, alcohol sales were limited to supermarkets, small retail liquor stores, restaurants and hotels serving customers. Pubs and nightclubs will still have to close by 7 p.m., the time all non-essential businesses must close under existing restrictions, said Mutsvangwa.

For drinkers, this is still better than before when they had to play hide and seek with the police while drinking at illegal taverns or open spaces turned into drinking spots. To stay afloat, many outlets would also surreptitiously sell booze to patrons through small windows and often paid bribes for the police to look the other way.

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