Colombian nightlife workers demand end to virus lockdowns

A plate reads in Spanish “Debts. Urgency. Unemployment,” as restaurant and bar workers break plates to protest the nighttime lockdown that forces them to close early during the COVID-19 pandemic in Bogota, Colombia, Monday, April 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Hundreds of nightlife workers protested lockdowns in Colombia’s capital on Monday as the country struggles with a steep rise in coronavirus cases that has led to a new set of economic restrictions and forced many businesses to shut down.

Bouncers, DJs, cooks and bar owners gathered at a square near one of the city’s nightlife districts and carried dishes scribbled with messages urging the government to help. Then they smashed their dishes on the ground to express their frustration with Colombia’s coronavirus policies.

“The men and women who depend on the nightlife economy cannot continue to pay for bad decisions” said David Contreras, the president of bar owners’ association ASOBARES. “We cannot sustain another lockdown.”

Coronavirus cases began to climb in Colombia in the beginning of April, prompting officials to impose curfews and weekend lockdowns in the country’s largest cities. Despite these measures, Colombia is currently experiencing three times as many daily deaths from the virus as in March, with about 400 people succumbing each day to COVID-19. The Brazilian and British variants of the virus have been identified in the capital city of Bogotá.

The nightlife workers in Bogotá said it was unfair for the government to shut them down while daytime industries like shops and restaurants are allowed to operate. They complained that the government’s decision to shut down nightlife has forced people to hold clandestine parties in homes, where there are no regulations.

According to Colombian merchants’ association FENALCO, more than 27,000 bars and restaurants have shut down since the pandemic began, leading to hundreds of thousands of job losses.

Many of those who have kept their jobs are working for significantly smaller wages.

Leticia Ibague, a bar tender at the protest said she was a fulltime employee at a restaurant before the pandemic began, making around $400 a month plus tips, but is now only paid by shifts.

She makes about a third of her previous salary, and is worried that new taxes proposed by the government to pay for the costs of the pandemic will have an even greater hit on her earnings.

“We need to be allowed to work on weekends” Ibague said. “We are not getting support from the government so we need to work more hours to sustain our families.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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