In less than a week, Malta will gradually begin phasing out of a quasi lockdown with the hope of once again injecting some life into the local economy ravaged by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
With restrictions set to ease on 12th April, businesses and stakeholders have been shrouded in a cloud of uncertainty with no indication of when and how they will be allowed to reopen, under what will undoubtedly be a set of health restrictions in place until the pandemic is squashed out by an EU-leading vaccination campaign.
Lovin Malta spoke to the head of four associations; the Association of Catering Establishment, the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, the Chamber of SMEs and the Medical Association of Malta, to better understand how they envision post-lockdown to unfold for the members they represent.
Matthew Pace – ACE: “Stricter enforcement is needed”
“It is important that when we do open, we are given a seven-day head start,” Pace told Lovin Malta.
“However, what’s more important is that stricter enforcement is carried out on wrongdoers as we are all used as sacrificial lambs because of a few cowboys!” he said.
Malta plans to start welcoming tourists to the island from June, providing some much-needed help for local businesses, many of which are dependent on a thriving tourism industry during the summer months.
“The likelihood is that we won’t be opening before mid or end of April, it’s all hearsay at the moment. 1st June is when tourism returns and we need to be ready for summer,” Pace ended.
Tony Zahra – MHRA: “The overall objective is having arrivals in June”
“In an ideal world, we should have restaurants open straight away,” Zahra said. “We are seeing the numbers go down and we are seeing the return of our main market, the United Kingdom, as we are going to be one of the few countries on the green travel list.”
According to Zahra, the UK market accounts for 33% of arrivals in Malta. Like Malta, the UK is laying out a roadmap for the easing of restrictions starting on 12th April.
“Accepting arrivals in June is going to be extremely important,” Zahra continued. “The overall objective is to have arrivals in June. If it means that we have to sacrifice another week or so from opening, then it’s worth the sacrifice.”
Abigail Mamo – Chamber of the SMEs: “Certain mistakes should not be repeated”
“We are quite disappointed that there appears to be a plan that no one knows about,” Mamo said. “We have many members asking so that they could be able to prepare but we have no sort of indication.”
For many, being able to prepare in advance is key to a successful reopening. Furthermore, not repeating the same mistakes as the last lockdown, which saw cases rise shortly after it ended, is imperative for business continuity.
“We agree on the gradual reopening of businesses however there are some things that, given the opportunity, we would’ve discussed with authorities.”
“Certain mistakes should not be repeated like opening retail outlets without letting people use the changing rooms. Had we been consulted, we would have given some input to avoid certain mistakes,” Mamo said.
Martin Balzan – MAM: “Prevent large gatherings where social distance is unenforceable”
“If the easing of measures is gradual, when cases rise, it’s easy to bring them down. If you open up everything all of a sudden, it will be more difficult,” Balzan said.
“Two things need improvement. First, the screening of people travelling in and out of Malta before they board and the prevention of large gatherings where social distancing is unenforceable.”
Earlier today, Prime Minister Robert Abela hinted that schools could be first in line to reopen once measures are lifted on 11th April.
“We’re finalising measures that will be introduced come 12th April. It won’t be an aggressive reopening but a cautious one, with priority given to education,” he told ONE journalist Edward Montebello.
The new rules, however, will be flexible and more restrictions could be reintroduced depending on the epidemiological situation at the time, the Prime Minister added.
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