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‘Are We Going To Throw Away Work Again?’ Maltese Bar Owners Fear Forced Closure Puts Their Livelihoods At Risk

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Maltese bar owners have hit out against the unprecedented measure that will see them closed for a month as the nation battles another wave of COVID-19.

Estelle Degiorgio, the 22-year-old owner of underground Valletta bar Beer Cave, said she fears another lockdown will be at the expense of their livelihoods.

“A big thank you to the authorities for giving us a three-day time frame to get rid of our stock once more,” she said, referring to the first instance of closure back in April, in which owners weren’t given much notice for the indeterminate shutdown. 

With another forced closure set to be imposed by Thursday, she feels the last months of carefulness have been all but futile.

“We worked so hard to abide by regulations set out and made sure everyone is enjoying themselves in a safe manner and yet, we’re forced to shut down.” 

Estelle and her bar in Valletta

Estelle and her bar in Valletta

Degiorgio thinks that the latest measure won’t have much effect unless a crackdown is extended on people gathering elsewhere.

“If bars are to close because of COVID-19, then beaches should close too. I’ve seen countless parties with gatherings of over 20 people, even on the streets.”

Bars are set to reopen on December 1st, just before peak season, with Christmas and New Years Eve around the corner.

The Beer Cave owner warned that reopening then will have a counteractive effect, with people’s hunger to socialise building as they look to mingle at bars once they reopen for the holiday season.

Adhering to stringent virus measures has meant owners have had to absorb hefty expenses, too.

“First we struggled to cover all the costs, we bought sanitisers, we put plastic around the bar, we bought masks for clients and now the government decided that we should close,” Rita Saliba, owner of Biżebbuġġia bar Nineteen Ninety scolded in a Facebook live video.

“In here no one enters without a mask. I even bought masks to give to people for free. I bought it with my own money.”

And while bars are being instructed to close, restaurants have been exempted from the new measures, despite them drawing similar crowds in terms of numbers.

“In here no one dances, no walks around,” Saliba continued. “Everyone is sitting at a table and we close at 11pm – by then everyone is out.”

“Are we just going to throw away work again? Are gyms going to close? Are restaurants going to close?”

Rita Saliba's bar

Rita Saliba's bar

The Birżebbuġia bar owner pointed out that better enforcement would help curb rising COVID-19 cases instead of hitting out at their businesses already struggling amid stagnant sales.

“Last Friday I went to St. Vincent De Paul and there were people outside without masks – that’s where we need to start.”

But with just three days until Nineteen Ninety has to shut its doors, Saliba must look at her most impending issue – getting rid of her bar’s stock.

“In 10 days we sold only 10 boxes of beer and now we have to close, ” she continued, fearing she might have to throw away a lot of it.

The abrupt closure of bars won’t just cloud the livelihoods of owners, but of their bartenders, cleaners and the whole chain of sales up to wholesale agents of alcohol and food.

And with the government’s rent subsidy ending before December, the wage supplement by March and no COVID-19 vaccine in sight, the fate of our favourite bars is unclear.

What do you think of the closures?

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