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WATCH: Even Vaccinated Maltese Clients Get Angry When Restaurants Ask For Certificates, Lobbyist Warns

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A leading restaurant lobbyist has expressed his surprise at how several Maltese customers expressed their anger at being asked to present a vaccine certificate, even though they had received the jab themselves.

“Something that really, really surprised us as an association was that even Maltese vaccinated customers got angry when restaurants asked them for their certificates,” Matthew Pace, secretary of the Association of Catering Establishments (ACE), said in an interview with Lovin Malta.

“They were venting their frustration at restaurant owners and our staff that they were being asked. It did come as a surprise because one might have expected people to follow legislation.”

“I think what’s happening is that the pandemic has been going for two years and while the situation started with health necessities, it is now getting excessively overstretched. The more regulations we implement over something that I don’t think is about health anymore but goes into the freedom of people to make decisions… it’s obviously frustrating people.”

Following the vaccine entry rules, a Facebook group was set up to name and shame restaurants that followed the rules instead of closing down. Meanwhile, the few restaurants which decided to close down in protest at the new rules were praised.

Mosta restaurateur Katja Levato, owner of Yiamas Greek Tavernaki, recently told Lovin Malta that people angered at the new rules personally harassed her establishment and threatened to boycott it, even after the lifting of the rules.

Pace warned that Levato’s experience was a “very common theme” among restaurant owners, with people venting their frustration at eateries over a rule they didn’t trigger and which many completely opposed.

He dismissed suggestions that restaurants should have closed down in protest, noting that they underwent two lockdowns in the past two years at a huge detriment to their sales.

“Restaurants are still trying to recuperate the revenue they lost during pandemic. Until the second week of December, business was blossoming gradually and the trend was getting positive again, but when people come and tell you to close in protest… it’s easier said than done.”

Although Malta only introduced vaccine entry rules on 17th January, Health Minister Chris Fearne recently announced that they will be lifted for restaurants, snack bars and każini on 7th February.

Health Minister Chris Fearne

Health Minister Chris Fearne

From 14th February, the vaccine certificate rules will be scrapped for bars, gyms, and pools.

Pace said he believes the pressure his association imposed on the authorities played a huge part in convincing them to lift the restrictions. 

“We were inundated with phone calls from restaurant members, of whom we have around 500, who voiced their frustration and anger and we told the Health Ministry time and time again that the rules are undoable,” he said.

“We’re in dire straits in terms of human resources and we’re not in a position to pick and choose customers, let alone staff.”

Indeed, he said a recent ACE survey found that around a third of restaurant members employed one or more unvaccinated staff members. 

“They weren’t in a position to sack these people, firstly because it would be unfair but also because we need to operate. We have a very labour-intensive industry and we need manpower to operate,” he said.

“The general thought among many of our restaurant members was that they will ignore the policy [for vaccinated staff]. No disrespect to anyone and it wasn’t done out of choice but because it was undoable. It’s not like you have a complement of staff and you can pick, choose and rotate.”

Pace warned the rules were also a “logistical nightmare” for restaurants, who were essentially forced to sacrifice some of the time of their waiters or bartenders to make sure they’re scanning customers’ certificates.

He said restaurants now expect to return to a state of pre-pandemic normality, without having to get used to new rules every few months.

“Maltese people and businesses really collaborated with the authorities over the pandemic and now we want return to normality. We collaborated when they asked us too, the booster uptake is really high too, but the government must recognise this collaboration.”

“The sooner we put this in the past, the better. We’ve been talking about getting back to normality for the past two years now and it’s impacting people big time.”

Do you think Malta should lift more COVID-19 restrictions? 

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Tim is interested in the rapid evolution of human society brought about by technological advances. He’s passionate about justice, human rights and cutting-edge political debates. You can follow him on Twitter at @timdiacono or reach out to him at [email protected]

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