COVID Restrictions on Restaurants in Sofia in Force from Today - They will be Boycotted
As of today (January 27), restaurants in Sofia must admit customers at half their maximum capacity, and employees and visitors must have a COVID-19 certificate (for vaccination, post-illness, testing or antibodies). In addition, the opening hours of establishments, gambling halls, and casinos must be limited to 22 p.m.
The restrictions were written in an order of the director of the Sofia Regional Health Inspectorate (SRHI) Dancho Penchev but the two largest branch organizations - the Bulgarian Association of Restaurants and the Union of Restaurants in Bulgaria, have already announced that they will not obey them. By law, violations must be punished by fines imposed by inspectors from the regional health inspectorate and the Food Agency. However, they have repeatedly explained that they are overburdened due to the small number of employees and the many commitments to impose isolation and quarantine on patients and their contacts, so they do not have the capacity for inspections. This will once again put the state in a familiar situation - to rely on the conscience of the people to comply with the measures.
Who are the restrictions for?
The order states that the new rules in Sofia apply to all those registered under Art. 124 of the Tourism Act. It lists restaurants, bars, fast food restaurants, cafes, pastry shops, breweries, wineries, tea houses, nightclubs. All these categories must allow customers 50% of their capacity.
According to the order of SRHI, gambling halls and casinos are not required to attend half of the possible capacity of visitors, but the limit for working hours up to 22:00 p.m. also applies to gambling establishments.
How the industry reacts
In an interview with Nova TV, Richard Alibegov, chairman of the Bulgarian Association of Restaurants, announced that the industry would boycott and would not comply with further restrictions. “Our staff is almost 100% vaccinated. With this order, they remain on the streets,” he said, without giving a source.
He once again pointed out that the authorities disproportionately impose restrictions, but do not provide timely and sufficient compensation. Alibegov threatened that if they are inspected and punished for non-compliance with the measures, the industry is ready to protest.
A few days ago, in a letter to Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and the government, two branch organizations of the restaurants pointed out that the restrictions indirectly affect the organization of events and concerts, as they are held in restaurants: “This is a very wide network of artists, performers, technicians teams, security guards, advertising agencies, transport companies, cleaning companies, etc. All of them so far, working with a ‘green certificate’, are now on the street,” according to the Bulgarian Association of Restaurants and the Union of Restaurants in Bulgaria.
The establishments had previously stated that they would not comply with the restrictions in force but later refused, arguing that criminal proceedings could be instituted against the staff at the sites.
The forecasted failure of control
Traditionally, in the event of a deterioration in the COVID situation, the authorities have called for more widespread and strict monitoring of compliance with anti-epidemic measures. This is mainly relied on by the regional health inspectorates. At the end of October, the RHI in Sofia told Dnevnik that there were 25 state inspectors in the institution, with a population of 1,249,277 in the capital.
Employees of the State Food Agency and the Labor Inspectorate, as well as municipal inspectors, may also be involved in compliance checks, but their powers to control health rules are more limited. To a large extent, the health authorities also rely on the assistance of the police.
Do the establishments comply with the restrictions?
A Nova TV team went on an inspection with the health authorities and law enforcement agencies, which started at midnight. The first stop was “Studentski Grad (Student City)”, where the party is always in full swing.
However, fines for non-compliance with the restrictions could not be imposed. “The measure comes into force at 22:00 on January 27,” explained Lyudmil Chonov from SRHI.
The only control was whether the anti-epidemic measures were observed - the presence of a green certificate and the wearing of protective masks by the staff. A Nova TV team was not allowed to inspect, but violations were found in the first disco, which the inspectors entered.
“Employees without properly placed masks and people smoking inside were found,” the SRHI explained. The fines will range from 300 to 1,000 for an individual and from 500 to 2,000 for a legal entity.
To have a certificate before entering the discos, dozens lined up in front of the test site.
Visitors will not be subject to a fine for violating the evening time. They can be fined only if they are without a certificate.
The checks on whether the restrictions are observed will continue, the Sofia Regional Health Inspectorate is categorical.
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