The closure of retail businesses and service-based businesses, such as hairdressers and beauty salons, is not being anticipated by the Malta Chamber of SMEs or its members, CEO Abigal Mamo has confirmed.
The SME Chamber CEO was asked to react to Wednesday’s announcement by Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne, who cautioned that new COVID preventative measures could be introduced in the coming days should the latest spike of coronavirus persist.
On Wednesday, Malta broke records for daily increases of the virus at 224 new cases. From Monday 4th January, Malta has registered upward of 140 cases per day, with Thursday’s count standing at 164 new cases and 1935 active cases.
Minister Fearne said there are three possible reasons for this latest spike: a lack of discipline in terms of socialising during the festive period, a recent drop in temperature and the new more transmissible variant of COVID.
He said that if the spike persists, meaning its cause is the latter two reasons and not due to socialising over the holidays, the Government would introduce new measures to protect Malta’s population and functioning of hospitals.
Asked by BusinessNow.mt what the feeling among the SME Chamber and its members is, Ms Mamo said that “so far, we have not received feedback that members are fearing fresh closures”.
“Things should regulate themselves on their own after the impacts of people socialising over Christmas die down. Measures already in place related to retail and service-based businesses have proven to work. We are not seeing that there is an obvious need for a new lockdown,” she said.
Currently, retail outlets and service-based businesses such as hairdressers and beauty salons are already adhering to measures, such as the number of people allowed inside outlets at one time and heightened hygiene procedures.
Bars have been ordered shut since end November and will remain closed until February, snack bars are not permitted to serve alcohol while restaurants can continue to operate so long as they adhere to strict distancing and hygiene protocols.
“The closing of retail businesses is not something we are expecting,” she said, adding that the SME Chamber and its members were fully expecting this increase in cases, and have been making plans on the assumption that things would get worse before they get better.
“Any kind of hope related to 2021 is related to the vaccine. In 2020, as a country we experimented with various methods on how to keep the virus contained and live normally, but we learned that we have to live through it. At this stage, the hopes rely on the vaccine and how fast it is rolled out”.
Deputy Prime Minister Fearne on Wednesday reaffirmed the Government’s plans to have all vulnerable people to be inoculated by May, from which point the general population can start to be vaccinated. Minister Fearne reaffirmed the Government’s aim for Malta to achieve heard immunity by the end of summer.
Honing in on the importance for Malta to be competitive in terms of vaccine roll out, Ms Mamo stressed that with the country being one of the smallest in the EU and distribution being a simpler affair than in larger countries with remote communities, the goal should be to achieve a strong level of immunity before other countries.
“We should aim to get a strong level of immunity before other countries do, so that we make sure we are highly competitive in this regard. Many businesses and companies are lying on this.”
Onto the new COVID strain that appears to have emerged in the UK, and has been found to be more transmissible but not deadlier, Ms Mamo said this “obviously concerns us a little, because we do not know what to expect”.
“The economy cannot take this for much longer. Businesses need to start seeing an improvement from March, because beyond that, the situation would become unsustainable”.
The Government this week announced the 2021 COVID wage supplement, which is set to cost around €40 million monthly.
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