Government decision to extend COVID measures leaves leisure industry reeling

The government’s decision to extend restrictive measures imposed by the government on bars, snack bars and clubs has placed the leisure industry under further – possibly fatal – strain, industry sources told BusinessToday


The government’s decision to extend restrictive measures imposed by the government on bars, snack bars and clubs has placed the leisure industry under further – possibly fatal – strain, industry sources told BusinessToday.

Prime Minister Robert Abela yesterday revealed that measures introduced at the end of October of would be extended beyond 2 December, when they were to be lifted.

Abela said that after a meeting with the health authorities it was decided that the forced closure would be extended for “the coming weeks”.

Bars and social clubs were forced to shut at the end of October as Malta grappled with a growing second wave of COVID-19 infections.

Abela said given the amount of new cases and not to put the country’s health services under stress, the legal notice ordering the closure will be extended.

“It’s not worth taking the risk to compromise the health services when a COVID-19 vaccine is around the corner,” Abela said, possibly indicating that the measures would in fact not be lifted until a vaccine is available locally.

But industry sources insist such reasoning is flawed since the number of positive cases recorded daily had risen in recent weeks, despite the restrictions on the leisure industry.

In fact, since the latest measures were introduced, Malta has registered an average of 120 new cases of coronavirus per day.

Philip Fenech, vice president of the Malta Chamber of SMEs’, told BusinessToday that the leisure industry had been seemingly singled out to take the brunt of measures imposed by the government to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“When further restricting the leisure industry, at this crucial time of year for the industry, shouldn’t we also be looking at other sectors that are accounting for the high number of positive cases that have been registered in recent weeks?”

Philip Fenech
Philip Fenech

Fenech said that no one could deny the fact that the number of positive cases had increasing despite the leisure industry having been practically shut down.

He acknowledged that it would also be fair to say that if all the measures on the leisure industry were to be lifted, the number of cases could only increase.

“But hopefully this will be the last effort and sacrifice that the leisure industry is called upon to make, seemingly on behalf of all others,” he said.

Fenech said that many businesses had suffered a lot in the past few weeks, moreso than any other sector.

The leisure industry has had to endure the lockdown in April, and then – when the lockdown was lifted – saw restrictions imposed on capacity and function. The less spending by customers, coupled with the decision in August to shut clubs and to impose new measures on bars, snack bars and other eating establishments in November, has left the industry reeling.

Numerous business owners insist they are close to financial ruin as most still have to pay rent and other expenses even while registering little or no income.

And there seems to be no end in sight yet to the plight of bar owners.

“Operators in the leisure industry now need to brace themselves for the next three months,” Fenech said.

“They need to plan ahead, so that once all the measures are lifted, even if following the administration of a vaccine, they will be well-positioned to return to business and profitability in as little time as possible.”

Wage subsidy mismatch

Matthew Pace, secretary of the Association for Catering Establishments, told BusinessToday that measures imposed on catering establishments were unfair.

“Quite a few snack bar licenses are in actual fact operating a fully fledged catering establishment and all is according to their licensing requirements, so depriving these from selling alcohol over the festive dates is unfair, as is also the closure of Kazini some of which again are fully fledged licensed catering establishments,” he said.

Pace said the association had been insisting that more consultation with the tourism ministry and the Malta Tourism Authority was needed before subjecting entrepreneurs to such conditions.

“This pandemic has been dragging for almost nine months now and while we understand that measures have to be implemented to curb its spread, we have also to bear in mind that businesses cannot remain functional if they are shut down,” he said.

The association has also been calling for government wage supplements to be extended to also cover those staff members replacing those previously included in the scheme and that the supplement provided should match the €800 per month per employee paid out to restaurant staff falling under a hotel license.

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