Catering establishments have called for restaurants to be allowed to reopen with other non-essential shops and services, as bars and restaurants remain in the dark on when they might be able to resume operation amid the gradual relaxation of COVID-19 measures. 

On Wednesday morning Prime Minister Robert Abela announced that schools would be the first to begin a staggered reopening on April 12, followed by the resumption of religious services on April 18 and the reopening of non-essential shops and services on April 26. 

While Abela set a timeline of June 1 for tourism activities and weddings to resume, the reopening of bars and restaurants and the resumption of organised sport and travel to Gozo were not mentioned as part of the timeline of relaxed mesures. 

“The reopening plan announced by the Prime Minister is clearly aimed at ensuring the implementation of the Tourism Recovery Plan in order to boost the economy.

"However, the plan forgot that an important element is the entertainment industry, specifically restaurants - given also the fact that these were never the main source of spread of the pandemic,” the Association of Catering Establishments said in a statement. 

It added that entrepreneurs and their employees should not continue to suffer because authorities failed to take action against “criminals” who flouted restrictions. 

“In these circumstances, ACE calls for the reopening of catering establishments as other services.”

The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association also expressed disappointment that restaurants were not planned for in the timeline.

“MHRA is disappointed that no target date has yet been announced for when restaurants will reopen. While data is what the country needs to be directed by, a target date for the reopening of restaurants would have been highly encouraging and very important as the reopening of our operations need adequate time for preparation and pre-planning.

"MHRA, therefore, appeals to the government to communicate before April 26 when restaurants can reopen,” the group said in a statement. 

Bars have been closed since October, while restaurants were ordered to serve only take-away and delivery on March 4.

PN calls for more screening

The Nationalist Party meanwhile welcomed the cautious approach but called for heightened screening at ports to combat the introduction of possible COVID-19 variants.

The PN added that it was unfortunate that the thousands of people who practice organised sport have been left in the dark about when they can play again. 

“The spread of COVID among teams sports is minimal, and excluding this sport is detrimental to the physical and mental health of all those who play professionally as well as those who are employed in the sector, particularly those who practice elite sport and have faced difficulty as leagues have already begun,” the PN said. 

Sports, education

The Malta Football Association also expressed dismay at the government’s decision not to relax its restrictions against organised sport, which has effectively dashed hopes that the 2020-21 Premier League can be completed in time to meet UEFA deadlines for international competitions. 

The Malta Union of Teachers said that discussions with Education Minister Justyne Caruana were ongoing and issues raised during such discussions had not featured in the Prime Minister’s announcement on Wednesday.

The MUT called for a cautious and staggered return to school, adding that it was waiting for discussions about the holding of exams. 

“MUT hopes that the relaxation of these measures will not instigate another surge in cases that endangers lives and make the operation of schools unsustainable. The decisions and responsibility of reopening schools are ultimately the government’s.” 

The Union of Professional Educators recommended heightened social distancing measures, contact tracing procedures, and a prompt revision of the risk assessment protocols to ensure a safe return to physical schooling. 

“While not refuting the undeniable scientific evidence behind the reopening of schools, the union still has its reservations given that despite the promise of heightened measures, announced during the press conference held this morning, with regards to rigorous social distancing, the maintenance of the bubble system, the enforced use of masks, and the emphasis on hand hygiene, sanitisation and ample ventilation, the Education Ministry has, until the time of writing, not been forthcoming with guidelines on how these measures will be heightened, nor has it given an indication on how these heightened measures will be implemented,” UPE said. 

“This is yet again placing schools in a position where they have a very narrow timeframe in which to adequately prepare for added restrictions or strategies.”

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