The health authorities plan to allow restaurants to reopen by mid-May but bars and band clubs will remain shut for longer under a yet-to-be-announced timeline to further ease COVID-19 measures.
Sources close to Malta’s roadmap for exiting the semi-lockdown say the authorities plan a staged approach, opening restaurants in the first weeks of May and then assessing the impact on infections before reopening bars.
The government’s plan has already outlined that the island will reopen fully for tourism from June 1. If bars are back in business by then, it will be the first time since they were shuttered in October.
In recent months, the authorities justified keeping bars closed by insisting the risk of COVID-19 spreading was higher in less controlled settings. Restaurants were deemed lower risk.
The exact dates for the planned reopening of restaurants remain under wraps and the government is under growing pressure to announce a timeline so that the industry can prepare.
'Left in despair'
Sean Gravina, chef and owner of Crust bistro in St Julian’s, warned businesses were facing permanent closure and were being left “in despair” by the lack of information.
“I and many, many, many others are shocked at the way we are being left alone, clutching at straws,” he said. Restaurant owners, he continued, “greatly appreciate” the government wage assistance but “seriously need a plan”.
“We are asking for a simple roadmap and an opening date with restrictions and enforcement,” he said.
He shared a screenshot of a message from a fellow restaurant owner that read: “If we don’t open next in the beginning of the month, I won’t open again.”
The 4,000 licensed bars and restaurants and their more than 20,000 employees need to open their doors soon, he argued.
Sources who spoke to Times of Malta said that the step-by-step plan is constantly reviewed.
So far, the government has published reopening dates for up to April 26, when non-essential retail outlets and service providers will be allowed to open for business.
The government has also said its plan to once again kickstart tourism starts on June 1, insisting the island will be ready to welcome visitors by then.
Couples who are soon tying the knot have also been given this date as a tentative one when weddings could be permitted although this too has yet to be officially confirmed.
Weddings allowed only if restaurants open
Times of Malta is also informed that weddings will not be allowed to take place unless restaurants are also allowed to operate.
In March, restaurants were ordered to shut their doors for the second time since the pandemic hit last year after record numbers of COVID-19 were detected.
Following the announcement on the gradual reopening made last week, catering establishments called for restaurants to be allowed to reopen with other non-essential shops and services on April 26.
They argued bars and restaurants remain in the dark on when they might be able to resume operation.
They said they should at least be given potential target dates in order to be able to make plans as they need “adequate time for preparation and pre-planning”.