The Association of Catering Establishments (ACE) has released the results of a survey showing that a vast majority of its members will not restrict entry to their restaurants to unvaccinated individuals, despite the promise of relaxed COVID-19 protocols for those who do so.

In September, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Health Chris Fearne announced that new rules for the sector would allow for a number of relaxations for those establishments only accepting vaccinated people.

These include shorter distances between tables, a larger number of people per table, and in the case of bars, the resumption of bar service.

Establishments must apply to benefit from the relaxed protocols, and all their staff must be fully vaccinated.

Initial reactions to the announcement were negative, with ACE president Reuben Buttigieg pointing out that local restaurants do not have the mechanisms to verify vaccine certificates.

Similarly, a review of reactions to the measures conducted among restaurant and bar owners by this week had mixed results, with some saying the protocols make no sense at this point in the country’s response to the pandemic, others highlighting that the ongoing staff shortage would not allow them to benefit from the initiative, and others yet looking forward to a return to profitability.

The results of a survey commissioned by ACE among its members following entry into force of the new rule show that a large majority of its members are not willing to take up the opportunity, with 86.3 per cent of respondents saying they are not willing to restrict entrance to COVID-19 vaccine certificate holders only.

Of these, 90.3 per cent believe that the incentives proposed by the Deputy Prime Minister do not justify such a measure.

Meanwhile, 77.8 per cent of the respondents insisted that their workforce is not in a position to adapt to the vaccine measures proposed, and only 65.3 per cent confirmed their staff is fully vaccinated.

Moreover, 87.7 per cent of respondents also feel that the measures are an overkill on the industry given that Malta has declared herd immunity in July 2021.

The survey, ACE said, reflects the association’s continuous insistence with the Superintendence of Health that such measures were ideal in a pre herd immunity scenario.

“For the proposed measures to be fair and just, they should have offered restaurant owners the possibility to operate without table capacity and distance restrictions,” it said, noting also that it had proposed to the Superintendence of Health the possibility of a hybrid option similar to the current smoking zone areas available in restaurants.

The survey also highlighted the sentiment among its members that the proposed measures will further impinge on the current human resource struggle the industry is facing.

ACE said that while it understands the purpose of such measure – to ensure further vaccination in the industry – it feels that their impact will be wholly borne by restaurant owners, thus affecting their long term sustainability.

“ACE feels that in line with the government’s intent to return back to normality and to mobilise the economy, the measures announced should have been more sensitive to the current staffing and human resources the restaurant industry is facing,” it concluded.

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