The Association of Catering Establishments (ACE) has accepted that only letting patrons who have been vaccinated into bars and restaurants is a viable middle ground between doing nothing and shutting down the sector completely.
Last week Health Minister Chris Fearne announced that from 17th January, bars, restaurants, clubs, gyms, pools and spas, casinos, gaming halls, cinemas, theatres and sports venues will be open only for those who have a valid vaccination certificate.
Back in September, the Government had tried to encourage bars and restaurants to only accept vaccinated visitors by offering to relax some COVID-related restrictions for establishments that did so.
At the time, ACE’s Reuben Buttigieg had questioned the incentive, insisting the move was discriminatory.
However, ACE Secretary General Matthew Pace told Businessnow.mt the situation is different now.
“Obviously numbers have risen. Three or four months ago, restaurants had the luxury of choice [of whether they wanted to only accept vaccinated patrons], but now it has to be compulsory. I’d rather have my restaurants serving customers in a vaccine-friendly environment, than not serving any customers at all,” Mr Pace.
“We’re lucky that in Malta we have such a high percentage of the population vaccinated. So let’s get the booster so we can go back to normal as soon as possible, because the situation has become mentally exhausting for everyone,” he added.
Asked what the association’s members thought of the measure, Mr Pace said it was reasonable to expect a period of adaptation and a few teething problems.
“At the end of the day, we’re pleased to still be operational, considering there are other groups calling for bars to be shut down,” he said, ostensibly referring to the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses’ (MUMN) statement early this month.
“This isn’t a game. There are economic and mental health repercussions, and businesses are still feeling the effects from the first and second lockdowns,” he said.
While the industry is facing an unprecedented staffing crisis, Mr Pace does not foresee a situation where establishments will have to let go of staff who do not want to get vaccinated.
“It might be a bit of a sore point, but if I were an employee, would I be more concerned about remaining unvaccinated, or not having a job? Would I want my regular wage, or the wage supplement?”
Nathan Brimmer, owner of The Pub and Grokk cafe in Valletta, said that while he did not think enforcing the new rules would be too difficult, he was sceptical about whether the authorities would manage to vaccinate everyone by January 17th, when the measure comes into force.
“The deadlines are unrealistic. The majority of people under 35 are not going to be able to go anywhere and they’re my target demographic,” he said.
“I just hope all establishments actually enforce it,” he added.
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