With the COVID-19 situation stabilising, the time has come to loosen more restrictions that have been imposed on the hospitality industry, Philip Fenech, deputy president of the Chamber of SMEs, has proposed.
Speaking to Lovin Malta, Fenech called for the following measures to be relaxed, with constant monitoring in case the situation changes.
1. Increasing the maximum limit of people who can sit at a table in a restaurant or establishment from six to ten and lowering the minimum distance between tables from two metres to one metre.
2. Extending the closing time of establishments from 2am to the limit envisaged by their license, which is 4am for nightclubs. This will allow people to remain at establishments in the early hours of the morning, rather than congregate outside after they close as they’re currently doing.
3. Resuming self-service at bars, with perspex dividers installed to separate bar staff from clients. This will ease the pressure on bars to hire more waiters at a time the hospitality industry is facing serious staff shortage problems, removing an added cost and freeing up those workers to businesses who need them most.
4. Increasing the current sound limit for music from the current limit 70dBs, which is only around 10dBs higher than the average noise of a group conversation.
5. Maintaining COVID-19 wage supplements and financial aid to hospitality businesses who are still struggling beyond the end of the year.
Fenech said the time is right to open more restriction layers now that COVID-19 numbers and hospitalisations have stabilised and the vast majority of the Maltese population has been vaccinated.
A campaign Fenech personally launched in collaboration with the Health Ministry and the Tourism Ministry to encourage workers in the hospitality and retail industries to get the jab proved successful, with around 600 people, mainly foreign workers, getting vaccinated.
He said that while tourism figures for this summer are way better than they were last year, they are still around 50% lower than they were in 2019 before the pandemic hit.
“We’re witnessing slow but sure sustainable growth, which is good because we cannot afford to suddenly stop everything again but want to keep growing,” he explained.
Fenech said that while a few hospitality businesses are actually doing better than they were pre-COVID-19 and some have reached or are approaching sustainable financial levels, others are still lagging behind.
“We’re not out of the woods yet and it’s important for the government to keep holding the hands of those distressed businesses through its various financial aid packages. While we understand that business has started picking up, now isn’t the time to let go of the hands of those who still need help.”