Nearly 90% of catering establishments are not willing to restrict entrance to COVID-19 vaccine certificate holders, a survey has revealed. 

The survey, by the Association of Catering Establishment (ACE), found that 86.3% of respondents are not willing to accept just vaccinated clients.

Just over 90% of those that are not willing to accept just vaccinated clients believe that the incentives proposed by Health Minister Chris Fearne do not justify such a measure. 

On Tuesday, Fearne said that rules will be eased for establishments that opt to restrict entry to fully vaccinated people. To qualify, all staff at those establishments must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The option comes into effect on October 9. 

Establishments that opt to open just for the vaccinated will be allowed a maximum of eight people on a table, up from 6. Their opening hours can also be extended from 2am to 3am. Tables will be distanced 1.5m and customers can also be served at bars with perspex, not just at table service. Louder music will also be allowed.

A total 77.8% of respondents insisted that their workforce is not able to adapt to the proposed measure.  This was in spite of the fact that 65.3% confirmed that all their staff were fully vaccinated. 

A large majority - 87.7% felt that the measures are "overkill" on the industry.

“The survey reflects the ACE’s continuous insistence with the Superintendence of Health that such measures are only ideal in a pre-herd immunity scenario. For measures to be fair, restaurant owners should have been given the possibility to operate without table capacity and distance restrictions,” the association said. 

It added that the measures should have been more "sensitive" to current staffing and human resource issues being faced by the industry.

“While ACE understands that the purpose of such measures is to ensure further vaccination within the industry, it feels that their impact will be wholly borne by restaurants affecting their long-term sustainability.”

Catering industry split on vaccine certificate decision

The survey reflects some of the comments restaurant owners gave Times of Malta when reacting to Fearne's announcement.

While initially, before the details were fleshed out, many had said they would be on board with restricting entry to the fully vaccinated, the actual announcement did not go down well with some. 

Among them is chef and restauranteur Sean Gravina, who said the decision caused “unneeded tension”. 

“Why are we discriminating against one another when we are the best in Europe when it comes to vaccination? Haven't we gone through enough? Being over-cautious is just as bad as being unprepared,” Gravina said. 

The chef said the catering industry cannot “continue this way” and insisted that the rules are “too complicated and complex”. 

“The people have the freedom to choose where to go. Let the catering industry be and free it from these useless restrictions that do not make any sort of sense when you see all that is going on around on the island. Nothing is making sense anymore,” Gravina added. 

He also said he will not be applying for his restaurant to only be open just for the fully vaccinated. 

“For the good of the industry and the wellbeing of people do not go ahead with this discriminative restriction. It’s wrong,” he insisted.

Chamber says members prefer cautious approach

But Malta Chamber of SMEs deputy president Philip Fenech told Times of Malta that the latest easing of regulations is “a step in the right direction" because it helps productivity and while monitoring the health aspect of things. 

“Obviously, owners would rather be allowed to open up fully, but they want to be cautious so as not to miss out on all the progress that has been made. 

“It’s clearly not the time to remove all restrictions, especially with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control warning countries to be on the alert ahead of winter,” Fenech said. 

Asked whether the Chambers’ members would be applying to restrict entry to the fully vaccinated, Fenech said there is a mix, with most clubs, bars and restaurants expressing an interest in the proposal. 

However, certain places with smaller capacities are less likely to apply the measure since the changes do not really make much of a difference to them. Fenech said, however, that it was “unfair” to say that nothing has changed in the past year-and-a-half. 

“We finally seem to have the right balance. We want to remain a safe reputation destination, as we have been over the last two months,” Fenech added. 

He also said the take-up of the vaccine among those in the catering industry has been high and the chamber had coordinated vaccination for at least 600 people. 

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