The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

Covid-19: No one size fits all for event protocols, government unwilling to discuss measures

Karl Azzopardi Sunday, 2 August 2020, 08:30 Last update: about 4 months ago

There are no one-size-fits-all protocols for events, varying members from the Malta Chamber of SMEs told this newsroom, with CEO Abigail Mamo saying that the government was unwilling to discuss measures with the Chamber beforehand.

Last Thursday, Health Minister Chris Fearne and Superintendent for Public Health Charmaine Gauci announced the protocols that events must abide by due to a recent spike in new COVID-19 cases in Malta.

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The Malta Chamber of SMEs reached out to this newsroom to give its opinion on these measures and what elements must be considered when they are being implemented.

 

‘We should have learnt from the first time round’ – CEO Abigail Mamo

“We are very much in favour of guidelines but this is something the Chamber has been working on for a long time, way before the recent events. We realised the need to reach an agreement with the government on guidelines for different sectors to operate during COVID-19,” Mamo said.

She is disappointed over the fact that the Chamber has seemingly wasted all this time on producing well-researched and evidence-based measures without receiving any form of feedback on them from the government.

“Then we end up in a situation where things are left to the last minute and the authorities approach us to produce one-size-fits-all policies. We should have learnt from the first time round; we are reliving the situation we had before wherein something which is not the right fit is published and disheartens businesses and consumers alike. Then, we spend the following weeks trying to fix them.”

Mamo believes that all this work could have been done beforehand rather than afterwards, as this causes a shock within the system.

“These decisions have an implication on people's lives and businesses, as we have seen when retail shops reopened and workers who thought they would wake up to another day at home, had to go in to work the next day.”

The CEO explained that there needs to be communications between the government and the Chamber – “we should not be left in dark, feeling as if we are trying to find the secret of Fátima, always looking over our shoulders in anticipation of the next surprise.”

She added that there have also been instances where protocols are announced without a legal notice to ground them and once the notice gets published, the protocols vary from what was announced in the first place. “It is not on that we go through the same system again.”

Having said this, Mamo expressed that the Chamber appreciates that the government has taken action, however, there are aspects that might not be enough while others need fine tuning.

The Chamber is now looking into these guidelines and seeing how they can be adapted to different scenarios because, when it comes to organising activities, different events need different adaptations of them depending on its type.

Asked if she thinks that mass events should be cancelled, prior to the announcement that they were, Mamo said that the Chamber is not against any kind of events as long as there is a proper risk analysis and operational standards. “If something cannot keep up with these assessments, it will be naturally cut off.”

 

‘There is a lack of information’ – Mark Vella, Events Sector

Founder of Powerhouse AV and member of the Chamber’s Events Sector Mark Vella shared Mamo’s sentiment on different events needing their own guidelines.

“We have to start by understanding what the definition of an event is, not the dictionary definition but one that analyses the market.” He explained that, the way he sees it, there are four types of events; public (free events like villages feasts or football matches), mass (expos or consumer-centred events), private (funerals or weddings) and business (conferences or meetings).

“The main difference between these events is logistics. One can have more control over a business event by collecting people’s details and managing seating for example. But the same cannot be said about mass events,” he said.

“I want the authorities to understand the difference between mass events and other types as there is a lack of information. One cannot comment or make decisions on something without understanding it first,” he said addressing policy makers as well as the general public which has been very vocal about recent reports on mass events.

Vella believes that if people understand the difference, individual policies can be implemented for each type of event that cover logistics like staff and attendee management – “there cannot be one policy across the board.”

With regards to the measures announced by the government on Thursday for events, he said that it is a good starting point but, again, this is not a one-size fits all situation. “You have to think out of the box, even if the ideas sound funny at first,” he said while pointing out that everyone needs to adapt to the new reality.

 

‘The virus is something we have to live with by controlling it’ – Paul Borg Bonaci, Wedding Sector

Speaking on behalf of the Weddings Association within the Chamber of SMEs, Director of Elia Caterers Paul Borg Bonaci said that the Association agrees a lot with the protocols that were published but the shocker was that they came out on a Thursday which disrupted weekend events.

“Weddings are large industry that encompasses various employment sectors like music, photography, design, catering, among many others so it is why it important to safeguard them. On top of that we are talking about one of the most important days for a couple. There are people who have already had to postpone the wedding once or twice and they do not want to go through this again,” Bonaci said.

He added that the industry is also at risk because those who work in it were downgraded from Annex A to C after the virus’s peak causing the wage supplement went down by a considerable amount when the industry was not functioning at even half of its capabilities. “There are people who are still out of a job and the risks of redundancies are higher,” he said, hinting that limiting such events could be devastating.

Bonaci said that the easiest thing would be to close everything, however, there is no need at the moment since weddings are very easy to control.

“We already agreed on going beyond the guidelines of the government which were nothing out of the ordinary,” he said, mentioning that the risk assessment is not enough as there are a lot of factors to consider during a wedding, considering the number of activities that take place and the variety of entities that play a role in its production.

“I truly believe, and I will hold myself accountable for this, that we can make a safe environment. However, this responsibility has to also be shared among everyone,” he said, adding that it is reckless of the MAM and MUMN to consider striking during such a critical period. “The virus is something we have to live with by controlling it.”

 

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