Busy restaurant

The president of one of Malta’s leading hospitality and restaurants industry groups, the Association of Catering Establishments (ACE), has dismissed health authorities’ offer to relax some COVID-related restrictions on restaurants and bars for those accepting only vaccinated visitors as “a joke”.

Speaking to BusinessNow.mt, Reuben Buttigieg gave an impassioned rebuttal to the proposal, saying “whoever thought of it has no idea how restaurants operate.”

Mr Buttigieg was asked to comment on Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne’s answers to press questions about the logic of allowing 100-person standing events for vaccinated persons but still limiting restaurant tables to six people.

To these questions, Minister Fearne said that should restaurants and bars restrict guests to vaccinated persons only, they may be permitted to follow event rules.

While Mr Buttigieg emphasised that as an organisation, ACE has been a strong and enthusiastic proponent of vaccinations, encouraging its members to get vaccinated, he insisted “it would be discriminatory” to try and motivate people to get vaccinated in this manner.

“This is a free country, we cannot oblige people to get vaccinated,” he said, pointing out that the rule would likely force staff members to get vaccinated or risk losing out on work.

Ethical considerations aside, Mr Buttigieg was emphatic in insisting that from a logistical perspective the implementing of mandatory vaccinations would be prohibitively impractical for establishments.

He cited the feedback of some of ACE’s colleagues in Holland, where he says the rules are already more relaxed, and where restaurants are able to further relax protocols if they only accept vaccinated customers.

In many cases there, he explained, “it simply didn’t work out”.

When establishments are busy, it would create issues to effectively implement vaccination requirements, he said, and anyway, “local restaurants do not have the mechanisms to verify vaccine certificates.”

Minister Fearne on Thursday announced the latest raft of restriction relaxations, which focus on allowing limited standing events for vaccinated customers and providing slightly favourable protocols for sitting events.

According to his announcement, as of 13th September, seated events with a maximum of 100 vaccinated persons will be permitted to keep a one-metre distance between tables.

This, the Minister said when responding to press questions extends to restaurants too: “Restaurants and other establishments who want to restrict entry to vaccinated people can follow the protocols for events, following a risk assessment with the MTA.”

Currently, restaurants and bars must keep a distance of two metres between tables, a move widely decried as hampering eateries’ ability for their day-to-day operations to be profitable.

Addressing these measures specifically, and health authorities’ general approach towards restricting catering establishments, Mr Buttigieg decried the sectors’ treatment.

“I don’t think the health authorities understand the difficulties we are facing. One in five restaurants have already been shuttered, and more will follow if we proceed how we have been, costing more and more jobs,” he said.

Despite catering establishments’ cooperation with COVID restrictions, Malta’s unparalleled vaccine rollout, mask-wearing, enhanced cleaning mechanisms and general prudence, the country’s catering establishments still face harsher restrictions than many of their European peers, he pointed out.

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