Malta’s bars have spoken of the difficulties they have faced over the past few days in checking if their patrons are fully vaccinated, but several also expressed their optimism that the measures won’t be around for long.
It has now been a week since new measures requiring bars, restaurants, cinemas and gyms, amongst others, to only admit people who have a valid vaccine certificate came into force. Last week, several restaurants slammed the measures, saying they were receiving abuse from some customers and should not be responsible for enforcing restrictions.
Following the first weekend with the measures in place, BusinessNow.mt spoke to various bars and pubs to see how things were going.
“Since we introduced the checks, business has totally dropped. In the first three days [since the measures came into effect], it dropped to pretty much nothing. Things improved later in the week but still about 30 per cent less than usual, which was already low due to the pandemic in general and because January is a quiet month,” said Ian Schranz, owner of the Hole In The Wall bar in Sliema.
Mr Schranz said that the bureaucracy involved in checking people had taken its toll.
“Sometimes the scanner doesn’t work and people get impatient, so it’s a bother,” he said.
He also highlighted the difficulty in policing the measures among people sitting outside.
“People were asking if they could just have a drink outside, but obviously we had to turn them down. Then this weekend it started raining and that made things worse,” he said, adding that he had also noticed a number of unvaccinated people who had never visited the bar before turning up just to make a scene.
Nevertheless, Mr Schranz said he believed the Government had quickly realised the latest measures were a mistake and would be removing them soon.
“They’ve already announced that they’re going to ease the measures, so I’m a lot more optimistic than I was this time last year.” he said, referring to comments made by Health Minister Chris Fearne and Prime Minister Robert Abela over the weekend that the Government was planning the first phase of its COVID exit strategy.
These sentiments were echoed by Shane O’Dwyer, co-owner of a chain of Irish pubs in Gzira and Balluta.
“It’s definitely been quieter than usual this week. The measures have been poorly executed and are very difficult to enforce. I don’t see them lasting, to be honest,” he said, adding that he saw “a light at the end of the tunnel”.
Regarding the possible easing of restrictions, Mr O’Dwyer said his biggest wish was for the 1 a.m. closing time imposed on establishments to be lifted.
“I just want St Patrick’s Day not to be cancelled again this year. We have big plans,” he laughed.
The scrapping of the 1 a.m. curfew was also brought up as a priority by Philip Fenech, Deputy President of the Chamber of SMEs, and the head of its tourism and hospitality sector.
“The SME Chamber has been holding regular meetings with the Government, which is standing by what it calls a two-directional approach – moving forward or backwards depending on the number of serious cases and hospitalisations. In recent days, the Government has reconsidered its position as the numbers have steadily decreased again,” he said, adding that he believed both the authorities and the private sector had learned from their previous mistakes.
“I myself was hesitant about vaccines at first, but eventually I saw the bigger picture and realised we were all in this together and everyone had to do their part to beat this thing. Let’s not forget that the reason we’re in a better position now is because of people’s cooperation and resilience,” he said.
Mr Fenech said he “absolutely” shared the optimistic outlook of bars.
“Sentiment in the general hospitality sector is a forward-looking one. Many new investments are on the way, which will take our product to higher levels. During times when businesses were closed over the past two years, many used the down-time to improve their product, both in the private and public sectors.”
“Other than that – case numbers are going down and vaccine take-up is very high. The only thing we have to make sure of is that our travel restrictions are consistent with other European countries. We’re looking forward to a good summer”, he said.
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