Malta aims to issue the second round of COVID-19 vouchers within weeks of restaurants and cafes reopening their doors, the government has told the catering industry.

The detail of the island’s roadmap for easing restrictions emerged in a meeting between the Association of Catering Establishments (ACE) and government representatives.

Matthew Pace, spokesperson for ACE, said the organisation was told that although the cash vouchers might not be available on restaurants’ first day back, the government “hopes” to issue them “within weeks”.

Malta’s proposed timetable does not set out a date for the opening of cafes and restaurants but Times of Malta has been told the authorities are planning for mid-May. Bars and band clubs are likely to stay shut as the situation is monitored.

“Most probably, the government won’t open before Mother’s Day (on May 9),” Pace said.

“But, after all these sacrifices, we would rather wait a few more days and then reopen for the long-haul.”

A second round of vouchers was to be issued in January but the roll-out had to be postponed after a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases.

Since then, the government has repeatedly said it would only issue the second batch of vouchers once the health authorities declared it safe to do so.

Most probably the government won’t open before Mother’s Day

Restaurants have been shuttered since mid-March, when the number of new COVID-19 cases soared, forcing the government to order a shutdown of all non-essential business.

Last year, restaurateurs had to spend weeks “in limbo” because the vouchers were not issued immediately and so many were unsure whether diners would actually turn up, Pace said.

The vouchers – three worth €80 to be spent in catering establishments and a fourth worth €20 eligible for retail outlets – were part of efforts to get the economy up and running after the closures brought about by the pandemic.

There will be a slight difference this time around with €60 allotted per person for accommodation and restaurants and €40 for retail outlets, according to the Budget. They will be broken into €10 and €15 denominations, as opposed to €20 in the first round.

The ACE spokesperson described the weekly meetings with the enterprise and tourism ministries as “positive”.

“It’s obviously all very touch and go. At this point we need to be looking at the bigger picture,” Pace said.

The country will proceed to the next step of the government’s plan to ease restrictions, with non-essential shops and services due to resume operations on Monday. Groups of up to four people will also be allowed to gather, up from the current two.

Schools have already reopened and visits to the elderly allowed to resume.

The government has yet to formally announce its plans past April 26, saying it needs to evaluate infection trends before unveiling further plans.

It has also said it would not exclude reintroducing restrictions if the number of infections starts to rise again.

Nonetheless, the tourism authorities have said Malta will be ready to welcome visitors on June 1 and will also be incentivising tourists by giving discounts on hotel bookings.

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