Bar owners expected more than the amount they were given to make up for the months they had to close shop, although they admit “it was better than nothing at all”.

Others were satisfied, saying that, when added to other benefits from schemes such as those covering rent, utility tariffs and employees’ wages, the latest assistance was of great help.

The government last week announced new COVID-19 mitigation measures that include an extension on the closure of bars throughout February, a €2.2 million aid package for bar owners and an 11pm curfew for restaurants.

Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo announced that bars can apply for a one-time payment of up to €2,870 to offset five months of shutdown.

Insisting on anonymity, a bar owner told Times of Malta on Sunday that although the financial help was welcome, “it is clear that everyone expected more aid”.

“The aid package for bars will be useful because every drop counts, especially given the fact that we’ve been closed for over a year,” he said, adding that when the directives were issued he had to close his bar immediately because of its small size.

“Given the size of our bar and the distancing regulations, it means we can barely host two tables inside. I guess, we would be a lot better off if there was permission for us to set up more tables and chairs outside,” the owner said.

“We keep hoping that we’ll ride the wave and survive and, to do so, we need to have more information on what we will or will not be able to do in the near future,” he added.

I just hope all the sacrifices bar owners must make will not be in vain

Another bar owner also said that the allocation of funds is helpful, noting that the schemes offered by the government to cover partial costs for rent and electricity as well as wage supplements made a significant difference.

“Although a one-time payment is not much help, some assistance is better than nothing at all,” he said.

Another bar owner admitted that he would “rather open sooner than later”, acknowledging that “the whole world is suffering badly from the corona-virus pandemic”.

“I just hope that everyone is abiding by the same rules and that all the sacrifices that bar owners must make right now will not be in vain because of establishments still allowed to open fail to observe the rules,” he remarked.

Lack of enforcement by the police, especially in outdoor seating areas, was raised by the bar owner.

“Our job is to entertain and serve people and we are usually busy doing that and not policing every table while busy running the place,” he said.

The new 11pm closing time imposed on restaurants could spell trouble for some if retained beyond February, according to Matthew Pace, from the Association of Catering Establishments (ACE).

“Should the 11pm curfew have to extend for a longer period of time, restaurants which are already working on a reduced capacity would suffer a bigger blow,” he insisted.

“However, I think the measure is necessary to prioritise health and keep on fighting this virus together,” Pace added.

Some restaurants are taking corrective measures to circumvent the new curfew. A fine-dining outlet, for example, said bookings were being brought forward to allow ample time for clients to eat calmly.

“Most of our clients would usually have finished by 11.30pm or midnight latest, so we simply decided to take bookings earlier than usual to make sure our clients can have a pleasant dining experience without being rushed,” the restaurant owner said.

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