Updated 7pm, adds details from COVID-19 bulletin

Restaurants will reopen in the coming days, two months since they were forced to shut down to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, the Prime Minister said on Sunday.

This might mean an increase in the number of tables and chairs on pavements to make up for a drop in covers indoors because of social distancing regulations. 

Speaking on One Radio, Robert Abela said that in keeping with social distancing guidelines and under the surveillance of the Malta Tourism Authority and other entities, catering establishments will start serving people in the coming days. 

The daily COVID-19 bulletin said the establishments that will be permitted to open from the end of next week will be announced on Monday.

"Their operations will, however, be different from that which we were accustomed to till last February, with new protocols and models that must be adhered to. Education will be key."

Restaurants, bars, cinemas and other public places were closed on March 18, with the government tightening coronavirus restrictions after Malta reported its first cases of local COVID-19 transmission on March 16.

The bulletin also said that with regards to outbound tourism from Malta,
no premature decisions will be taken.

"The fact that discussions have started does not mean that action will be taken
soon. Everything will continue to progress cautiously and prudently, and in accordance with medical advice."

On Friday Julia Farrugia Portelli said that Abela will be revealing which restrictions will be lifted next "by Monday”.

In a Facebook post, the Tourism Minister said that she had informed some 1,500 participants of a webinar including the Malta Tourism Authority and the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association that "there will be tourism this summer".

On Sunday, Abela said that people’s quality of life will be benefiting from Malta’s low COVID-19 numbers: “by the end of this week, people will be able to go to restaurants, nail technician or hairdressers. 

“It will not be the same as before March 7 – it will not be free for all. It would be stupid to revert to how things were in February. We will be cautious and prudent.”

However, he hinted that people who do not follow social distancing guidelines will not be fined. The government preferred the educational, rather the "big brother" approach, he said.

He admitted that social distancing guidelines restricted the number of covers at catering establishments.

This might call for the relaxation of other measures, such as the contested tables and chairs regulations. Restaurants that in the past were refused tables and chairs outdoors might be allowed to set up outside their establishment to make up for a decrease of covers indoors. 

Throughout his weekly interview on One, Abela called on people to follow social distancing guidelines, urging against scaremongering.

“Instead of scaremongering people with the second wave, the best thing people can do is go to the beach and follow social distancing guidelines,” he said. 

As things stand, there is no reason to keep establishments closed. If there was any reason to do so, I would have chosen people’s health over and above everything, Abela added.

“Why should we "punish" people and keep them locked indoors when scientific and medical evidence is showing us that we don’t need to do this? Why are we scared about people who went for a walk, or to the beach?”

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