Clayton Bartolo

Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo skirted questions on whether businesses can expect the Government COVID wage supplement to be extended beyond March.

The wage supplement, now being worked on the basis of turnover, has largely been viewed as a lifeline to Maltese businesses, especially those operating within the tourism sector, such as hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues.

Minister Bartolo was speaking during a webinar hosted Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) on Tuesday morning.

When asked whether local businesses can expect the COVID wage supplement to be extended beyond March, Mr Bartolo said:

“Government has been clear on this from day one, we will do all it takes to save the industry and the jobs.

“This is why we are reviewing the situation on a day-to-day basis. When we meet weekly, we review both local and international developments, all of which are moving in line together, especially now with the vaccine.

“If we need to extend the wage supplement, then we will.”

He said the arrival of the AstraZeneca vaccine has allowed Malta to boost its vaccination programme, saying that the perception of Malta as a safe country – traditionally meant as safe from crime – will be extended to also mean that Malta is a safe country in terms of COVID.

In a recent interview with The Malta Independent, Economy Minister Silvio Schembri had said that after March, the Government is planning to implement measures which encourage economic growth and operational improvement, rather than being limited to cost minimization for businesses.

Minister Bartolo, following the announcement of Malta’s national tourism policy leading up to 2025, revealed that the authorities are reviewing Malta’s tourism legislation, with a view to update tourism-related legal notices. Details of this are expected in the coming months.

“The new tourism policy reflects today’s reality as well as the future.”

Minister Bartolo said the Government wants this summer to be “as normal as possible”, stressing the importance of February to bring the case numbers down. He said that through the cooperation of the whole country, a successful February would pave the way for levels of normality to be returned to in March.

“I do believe that with cooperation from all parties involved, Once February is over, March will start taking us back to normality.”

Minister Bartolo said that the Government wishes for tourism to be on the frontlines of Malta’s post-COVID recovery strategy.

Prime Minister Robert Abela has said he hopes for Malta to be back to “business as usual” by May, however, Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne has warned that herd immunity will not be reached until September.

Questions, therefore remain, on what Malta’s Government defines a “return to normality” to be, and what that means in terms of lifting restrictions.

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