Pictures of a concert held at Girgenti Palace, co-hosted by the Office of the Prime Minister, showed social distancing guidance being flouted.

The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra concert was held on Wednesday evening at the prime minister's summer residence in aid of animal rights organisations.

Images that emerged from the event show a tightly packed crowd seated in the courtyard of the palace with little evident social distancing, in apparent breach of recently issued guidelines that dictate the re-opening of theatres.

Although instructions prohibiting mass events were lifted in July, guidelines, published by the Culture Ministry last week, advise theatres and venues to keep a two-seat gap between different groups of people, each of which should not number more than six.

They call for social distancing, the adequacy of facilities for proper personal and public hygiene, cleaning arrangements, and other changes that may affect the health and safety of the audiences and performers.

The guidelines (see pdf link below) are for both indoor and outdoor events.

People who make a living from the arts industry told Times of Malta that seeing a lack of social distancing measures at such an event left producers at a loss.

“The biggest issue to me is the lack of consistency,” Philip Leone Ganado from What’sTheirNames theatre said.

“Authorities need to immediately make clear what the rules are that need to be followed, and then ensure that they are followed by everyone

The company, which typically mounts Shakespeare productions, was the first to put on a performance after COVID-19 restrictions, with a weekend run of the Comedy of Errors last week.

“For us, just to find out what regulations we had to follow was impossible and in the end we opted to follow the most conservative rules we could to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

“But that obviously entailed a huge loss of revenue. So to see a state-funded event completely disregarding the same guidelines a day later feels like a slap in the face," said Leone Ganado.

“Authorities need to immediately make clear what the rules are that need to be followed, and then ensure that they are followed by everyone. It is bizarre and unacceptable to place such a disproportionate burden on small producers while the largest events go on unaffected.”

Another local producer said the lack of a standardised approach was creating uncertainty on how to move forward with their events.

“The different approaches being used for seated events, with some opting for social distancing and others, mainly government events, opting for full capacity, going against their own guidelines, is putting different producers at a loss on what to do.

"This is delaying business and artistic decisions and creating ethical and public issues which may have serious and long-term repercussions.”

Meanwhile, a choreographer of a local dance troupe said the fate of cancelled productions was still in limbo, with viability remaining a big question looming ahead.

“Certain productions that were postponed this year are still on hold. We don't know if and when we will be able to perform them,” the choreographer said.

“Outstanding balances on contracts won’t be paid until we perform and performing outside is too expensive to set up without financial help.”

Times of Malta has reached out to the Office of the Prime Minister for comment.

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