Only a few hours before restaurants were forced to close down, Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci said that such establishments don’t pose a COVID-19 risk if they follow the rules.
“We had identified bars as a source of COVID-19 transmission, especially when people stand up from their seats, drink alcohol and move from place to place, which is why they remained closed,” Gauci said when interviewed on Times of Malta’s Ask Charmaine show yesterday.
“So far, restaurants have remained open because the risk is significantly decreased if their tables are separated, if there’s a restrictive number of people at the table, if people wear a mask when they get up and not stay roaming around without a mask.”
“However, if restaurants convert to a bar concept, then it’s a risk factor. What we can see is that we have restrictions in place but people simply aren’t obeying them. We need to ask ourselves if we’ve all rigidly followed the recommendations in the past two weeks. This is a mental thing we must ask ourselves because I think it will be a lesson for all of us.”
However, during a press conference today, Gauci said the evidence shows “a very good link” between COVID-19 cases and restaurants, particularly over the past month.
“We found out restaurants were a source of infection, which is why they’re shifting to takeaway so they can keep on going and people will be safer.”
Even Health Minister Chris Fearne played down calls for new restrictions in recent days, arguing that the vaccine is the government’s “circuit-breaker”.
“It’s like a game of football, when you have both attackers and defenders,” he explained. “Before we acquired the vaccine, we were only defending but now we’ve started attacking too. The more we attack, the more we can put down our defences.”
However, today he described the situation as a race between the virus and the vaccine.
“The vaccine is doing well but we must be careful of the virus and stop it from running so we win the race in a short span of time.”
Restaurants will remain closed until at least 11th April and will be allowed to receive the full wage supplement for their staff as compensation.
However, many restaurateurs have expressed their dismay at the situation, while the Association for Catering Establishments warned restaurants are being forced to suffer the brunt because of a lack of enforcement on a few irresponsible operators.
What do you make of Charmaine Gauci’s change of tune?