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‘One Word: Tal-Biki’ Malta’s Bar Owners React To The Latest COVID-19 Aid As Forced Closures Continue

Hit with four months of pandemic closures and more to come, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel for Malta’s bar owners. The state has since announced a one-off state payment of €2,870 to help cover their lockdown, but for many, it’s a drop in the ocean. 

“One word describes our situation – tal-biki,” owner of Balzan wine bar said.

Malta’s bars first closed in October following a surge in COVID-19 infections. The restrictions have been extended twice over, first in December and then again last week. The government has only recently provided significant financial support. Still, bar owners feel like the initiatives do not go far enough.

“The money doesn’t really help to be honest. Whatever they’ve given us has hardly covered any of our costs, and yet, some bars are still functioning till early hours through loopholes. We’re being laughed at really,” Matt* an owner of a popular Paceville bar told Lovin Malta. 

After being idle since their bar closed in October, Matt has had to move out of his apartment because he couldn’t afford rent.

“Nothing really makes sense at the moment and the support is given too volatile to be proper help.”

Ian Schranz, who runs an alternative bar in Sliema called Hole In The Wall, said the extended closures won’t change much for his establishment.

“We were just breaking-even with the previous restrictions anyway, so closing now won’t change too much for us financially. But the more we prolong this time with piecemeal weird restrictions, the longer we’re going to suffer financially in the long term.

He says that while the latest package is welcome, it’s a far cry from what bars really need to survive.

“Every little bit helps. However, naturally, it’s not proportionate to the losses of being closed for six months. In all fairness, I don’t have a solution to this problem myself,” he said.

“When one runs any business, they aspire to make a basic salary at least. That would be around €2000 a month, or else they go get employed.”

Nathan Brimmer, who runs an iconic bar The Pub in Valletta, believes other action has to be taken in which bars aren’t the scapegoat of the pandemic.

“I think a lockdown is fine. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic and the first one worked wonders (as the figures showed). I also understand the idea behind bars being shut. Drunk people do stupid things and are less likely to adhere to the rules or protocols.”

“But surely by now, there is enough statistical proof that closing bars has done little to curb COVID-19 figures. People are getting drunk at places breaking the rules, while restaurants are effectively doing our job and reaping double benefits. Then, people like me are drowning.”

Meanwhile, the Chamber of Small and Medium Enterprises welcomed the state’s added financial support but said the road to recovery will be uneven and rocky, even after herd immunity is achieved.

“The Chamber was in talks with the government after it was clear that bars had to remain closed. We were pleased with the budget of support they offered,” Phillip Fenech, Deputy President of the Chamber of SMEs said.

The idea behind the fund was to help cover stocks that had gone to waste during these idle months, or whatever expenses were pending.

“There are a lot of initiatives offered to help with electricity bills, water and rent. However, the bottom line is that while all help is appreciated, it’s time for all stakeholders in business to hold hands during these extraordinary times.”

He warned that certain landlords aren’t being lenient with bar owners, forcing them to fork out rent or risk closing down before lockdowns are lifted.

“Besides support packages and building better, more lenient relationships between business stakeholders, we’re all anxiously looking at when herd immunity is achieved through vaccinations. The reality is, businesses want their turnover back to really cover their expenses and make a living.”

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Sam is an over-caffeinated artist fighting for a cooler and freer world, one article, song or impromptu protest at a time. Hit her up with thought-provoking ideas or dreams at [email protected] or @princess.wonderful on Instagram.

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