Empty Restaurant

Half of catering establishments responding to a new survey by the Association of Catering Establishments (ACE) indicated they will be forced to reduce operations due to the Government’s new requirement for client-facing staff to be vaccinated against COVID, the organisation has revealed.

Furthermore, more than one third of restaurants have one or more front-line staff members who have not been vaccinated, according to the survey.

Only 36 per cent of respondents said they would be able to continue their operations as usual, while a significant 14 per cent stated they would be completely closing pending changes in the measures, laying bare the controversiality of the new rules.

ACE also took issue with the nuances of the COVID vaccine requirement, and specifically its neglect of non-European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved vaccines.

The results of its survey suggests that 14 per cent of restaurants have staff that have been vaccinated by non-EMA vaccine versions.

It made the statement as the local hospitality industry adjusts to controversial new rules requiring both client-facing staff and customers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with a booster dose as well, in most cases.

The impact of this rule on staffing has been decried by various hospitality stakeholders, including the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA), which last week called it a “hammer blow” to the industry.

A key contention of objectors to the rule centres on the fact that the move will likely force unvaccinated workers out of the sector, which was already struggling with staff shortages, having a long-term effect on employment.

Additionally, ACE decried the impact of strict quarantine requirements on staffing levels, calling for the quarantine period to be set at five days, and that these days be taken out of employees’ holiday pay – regardless of vaccine status.

Currently, health authority guidelines state that those who test positive with COVID-19 and contacts living in the same household are obliged to self-isolate for a full 10 days.

Persons living in the same household as a COVID-positive person are only eligible for a reduced quarantine period of 10 days if both they and the COVID-positive person are fully vaccinated, booster shot included.

However, this rule is already a reduction on the initial 14-day policy made in the final days of 2022 after concerted political pressure and repeated requests by the struggling business community.

ACE is not alone in calling for a reduced quarantine period, and earlier last week the CEO of Malta Chamber of SMEs, Abigail Mamo, presented a proposal for a five day reduced COVID quarantine period at an Employment Relations Board meeting, attended by Superintendence of Public Health, the Data Protection Commissioner and the CEO of the Health and Safety Authority. 

Aside from the impact on staffing, ACE also slammed the implementation of the rules for customers, reporting that the official Government App to scan vaccine certificates does not seem to work properly with some devices, creating an additional administrative burden on catering establishments.

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