Despite “the hardship that restaurants will have to go through in the coming weeks”, the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) remarked that “the root issues remain unaddressed,” referring to a lack of enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Robert Abela, Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne, and Superintendence of Public Health Charmaine Galea announced a raft of new measures, including the closure of restaurants, kiosks and snack bars until 11th April, with take-aways and deliveries permitted.
The measure comes into effect from 5th March (today) and came in response to spiralling COVID-19 figures, with new daily transmission records of 300+ cases in this week alone.
In a statement, the MHRA said that it recognises the increase in COVID-19 infections is a matter of great concern to all.
“The new measures announced by Government are focused on the restaurants sector, which means that many businesses in this sector will be suffering yet another major economic blow, for some even with fatal consequences, despite that the majority have over the past difficult year abided to the protocols imposed by the relevant authorities.”
It added that with the “root issues” remaining unaddressed, there is a risk the outcome of such an exercise may be futile, “leading to more serious consequences in the wider economy as the tourism sector continues to emerge as the major victim of this situation”.
MHRA President Tony Zahra asserted that, “one may increase and impose a plethora of new measures, however if enforcement is not carried out efficiently and be seen by all that is so, the situation may get more serious”.
MHRA reiterated that better enforcement requires more resources to be deployed on this front and the related responsibilities by the relevant tourism authorities and regulator should be equally shared with the Police Force and Health Authorities.
Therefore, MHRA called for better inter-ministerial efforts on this front and closer collaboration with the stakeholders. “It is evident that if protocols and licensing conditions remain to be breached by irresponsible operators and individuals then the situation in the coming months is going to prove fatal to honest and hardworking operators and employees working in the travel, tourism, and hospitality sectors.”
It also expressed concern about the roll-out of the vaccine programme, and called on Government to provide adequate reassurance that Malta becomes one of the first EU states to have its citizens vaccinated. That being said, despite the deteriorating COVID situation, Malta remains among the fastest countries in the EU to inoculate its residents.
“MHRA remains loyal to its pledge in supporting the authorities in working together in finding the best ways to get out of this metaphorical corner, however, Government must pull up its socks and focus efforts on enforcement, enhanced economic support to tourism operators, who now cannot afford to carry further such pressures, more efficient and target-oriented roll out of the vaccine amongst the people and better communication with the stakeholders who with their expertise can only help out in such a dire situation.”
Malta Tourism Authority chief defends enforcement action
During a current affairs programme on Thursday evening, aired on the national broadcaster, Malta Tourism Authority CEO Johann Buttigieg defended the Government’s enforcement actions.
“In February alone, MTA carried out over 10,000 inspections at catering establishments, over 22 were fined for breaching protocols or remaining open beyond their curfew. No one can say enforcement isn’t happening,” Mr Buttigieg said on Thursday night’s episode of Popolin.
He stressed that officials were aware of some establishments testing the limits of COVID protocols, and in some cases, licenses were changed if the entity was found to be in breach.
“With regards cowboys, I can assure you that we changed the license of three establishments in the past month. Some even filed a warrant of prohibitory injunction against this action,” he said.
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