Bars, restaurants and performing arts schools will remain closed until further notice, with the government deeming them to be higher-risk than other non-essential sectors.

Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci reiterated the government’s strategy of focusing on low-risk measures first when gradually easing restrictions when asked on Saturday about the reopening of bars and restaurants.

“Our strategy is based on introducing the measures which carry the least amount of risk first, meaning that the measures set to come into force on April 26 are the least risky ones,” Gauci said.

Sanitisation, social distancing and mask-wearing all made sectors such as retail lower-risk, she noted.

Gauci was speaking during a press conference led by Health Minister Chris Fearne, held to announce a new system of vaccine registration.

The government will begin easing COVID-19 restrictions next week, starting with the staggered reopening of schools and continuing on April 26 when non-essential shops and services will be permitted to reopen for business.

But the reopening strategy has made no mention of when bars, restaurants, performing arts schools or organised sport, among other things, will be permitted to resume.

Gauci said on Saturday that authorities would assess the situation after non-essential shops and services reopen on April 26 and decide accordingly.

She said she was confident that other sectors could be “slowly” reopened following that period and said that establishments such as restaurants would be given prior warning with “expected dates being announced accordingly”.

The government has come under fire from critics in the catering sector, with the association for catering establishments (ACE) arguing that entrepreneurs and their employees should not suffer because authorities failed to take action against bad actors.

The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association echoed that call, expressing its disappointment that restaurants were not planned for in the reopening timeline.

“We focused primarily on schools reopening next Monday before everything else because we understand the importance of providing education to our children,” Gauci added.

In relation to the reopening of schools and whether performing arts schools will be allowed to reopen as part of mainstream education, Gauci argued that the main goal is to ensure “we can keep offering children the education that they need”.

“Our focus is on reopening mainstream education first so children can go back to school. We need to be cautious about reopening everything at once as we want to avoid any large impacts in terms of viral transmission,” Gauci said.

“Given this focus, performing arts schools will not be resuming as of next Monday. When things start going well again, we will be able to reopen these schools as well,” she added.

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