Bolivian businesses battered by pandemic encouraging widespread vaccination

By Gabriel Romano

La Paz/Cochabamba, Bolivia, Jul 9 (EFE).- Several Bolivian businesses hard hit by the coronavirus crisis see a widespread vaccine rollout as their lifeline and are running different promotions to encourage customers to get the shots.

One establishment is promising a courtesy cup of the “world’s most delicious coffee” to anyone who shows their vaccine card, while others are offering customers a free ice cream or a 50 percent discount on a sauna session.

In tandem with those strategies, the Chamber of Gastronomic Business Owners of La Paz (Cadeg) has made a big push to vaccinate restaurant personnel as a way to show that the food-service industry is taking the pandemic seriously and that the risk of contagion is very low, its president, Ernesto Olivares, told Efe.

(One study cited last month by the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that participants’ risk of infection was reduced by 91 percent once fully vaccinated)

These measures are being taken in response to a severe crisis, with the earnings of Bolivian restaurants at just one-third of their level prior to the pandemic and three of every 10 of these establishments having been forced to close, Olivares said.

The Cadeg chief said restaurants have been in a battle for survival due both to a lack of economic assistance and their high fixed costs – such as rents – that do not vary with changes in production or sales volume.

In La Paz alone, Cadeg comprises 120 member businesses that employ thousands of workers, while a diverse network of suppliers further up the chain depend on restaurants for their sales.

“So if the gastronomy sector is affected, much of the (country’s) productive sector is affected,” Olivares said.

He said customers are fearful about eating out because of the presumed risk of infection and that restaurants must convince them that while health concerns are paramount there also is a pressing need to protect jobs and spur the economy.

Brian – a waiter at La Capital, a fast-food restaurant in La Paz where customers receive a courtesy brownie for merely showing their vaccine card – told Efe that measure has helped generate a bit more revenue.

At Friends Chicken, a restaurant in Cochabamba, customers who show proof of immunization receive a free ice cream.

In that same central Bolivian city, Norma Cordoba told Efe that her sauna offers vaccinated customers a 50 percent discount, adding that one of her goals is to shatter myths about people “turning into werewolves” or having a tracking microchip inserted into their bodies when they receive a Covid-19 shot.

“For us, it’s about rewarding that action among our youth and people who are saying ‘yes’ to life, ‘yes’ to the economy,” Olivares said of promotions that aim to boost vaccination levels.

According to Cadeg’s figures, the restaurant and food-services sector in La Paz – home to near 1 million inhabitants – generates 150,000 direct jobs and around 400,000 indirect jobs.

Nationwide, around 3,000 of these eat-out establishments, or 30 percent of the total, had closed through March of this year, while those that managed to stay in business have been forced to cut staff to remain afloat.

Cumulatively, that Andean nation’s restaurant industry has sustained a $44.9 million drop in revenue since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. EFE


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