The Malta Independent 28 September 2020, Monday

‘It is unfair to point fingers at entertainment industry’ - MEIA

Wednesday, 5 August 2020, 08:15 Last update: about 3 months ago

The president of Malta Entertainment Industry and Arts Association (MEIA) Howard Keith Debono has argued that it is very unfair to point fingers at their industry, arguing that what the country is going through right now in terms of Covid-19 is the result of multiple issues, not just mass events.

“I don’t think it’s fair to point fingers at our industry at all. Firstly, most of our industry agreed that it was too fast and too soon to open mass events, but not only just for our own industry. Yes, had restrictions been legally enforced, not just at mass events but also enforcement at our borders, the situation might have turned out differently.”

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Debono was reacting to the recent statement made by the President of Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) Tony Zahra. Zahra, speaking to this newsroom had said that “in hindsight, Malta possibly reopened for mass events too fast.”

As of Tuesday, Malta has 215 active coronavirus cases. According to the health Authorities, the 16 new cases found on Tuesday came from a number of clusters or previously known cases. From the 16 cases, 5 formed part of the Santa Venera feast cluster, a further two cases came from a Paceville cluster and another five related to previously known cases. 

The Malta Independent contacted Debono for his reaction to Zahra’s comments, and he was also asked about how the latest Coronavirus related restrictions for events will affect the entertainment and arts industry.

Whilst he agreed that mass events did open too soon, he highlighted that the authorities could have pushed for the promotion of domestic tourism and kept certain legal restrictions. “No one is a prophet, but there is a chance that had we done these things we would be in a different situation than we are in now.” He said that now all events are being cancelled for two main reasons. “Not that party and event organisers were doing anything illegal, but we are concerned about the health and safety aspect, and we are aware that people in general do not seem to want events at this moment. That reflects in ticket sales.”

Last Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne and Superintendent for Public Health Charmaine Gauci announced limits on the number of people who may attend mass events after a spike in COVID-19 cases. Venues will have to carry out risk assessments when taking in more than 100 people. People at mass events cannot be in groups larger than 10 and people attending such events will need to leave a contact number with the authorities in case contacting tracing takes place.

These new measures come after a cluster of COVID-19 cases emerged from the Hotel Takeover Party and the Santa Venera Feasta. In the past two weeks many local party organisers have cancelled or postponed upcoming events this summer.

When asked whether members of the Entertainment and Arts industry have given feedback to the MEIA regarding the new restrictions for events, Debono said that the measures were pushed by the association. “We were the ones who demanded such measures and in previous press releases we highlighted what needed to be done. One of them was to firstly to stop large international parties and to create proper measures to evaluate events which were low or high risk,” explained Debono. “It is not about what is fair or not, it is about what is safe and what is not.” He said that the MEIA supports the recommendations by the Superintendent of Public Health and that MEIA will support recommendations by the Superintendent that may require halting all mass gatherings when necessary.

“We want to avoid all grey areas. We cannot be in a situation where we would have these measures in place but would still see operators acting illegally. We see bars and clubs which completely ignore measures and restrictions and it does not create a level playing field.”

Debono added that there is a lot of uncertainty in terms of the long-term effects on the industry. “We are in discussions with the Culture Minister as we are working on a recovery plan. Unfortunately, our industry is now at annex C as opposed to Annex A, and this is why we need a comprehensive recovery plan for the entertainment and arts industry.”

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