The Malta Independent 5 December 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Bar shut-down - Some guidance required

Thursday, 19 November 2020, 08:28 Last update: about 15 days ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela on Monday was non-committal on whether bars and clubs would be allowed to re-open come December, and his deputy, Health Minister Chris Fearne, said yesterday that it was too early to say whether the shut-down would be extended.

Bars and clubs were forced to shut down by virtue of a legal notice that came into force on 29 October and expires on 1 December. The restriction was put in place as the country was facing a surge in new Coronavirus cases.

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Many have argued that despite the closure of bars, and also despite the laws that made the wearing of masks in public mandatory, the number of cases has remained high. It has also been argued that most of the new cases are being transmitted at family gatherings and workplaces, not at catering establishments.

Indeed, restaurants were allowed to re-open this year, and there was no spike in cases there, because clear protocols were put in place and the rules are being adhered to.

So, one can argue that the same can be done for bars, even though maintaining social distancing at bars and clubs may be more difficult than at restaurants.

As usual, there are two standpoints here: the economical and the health perspectives. It is a fact that many businesses have seen their income stop overnight as a result of these rules. The owners are not the only ones suffering - their employees are, too.

But on the other hand, everyone must accept the fact that these are extraordinary times that require extraordinary measures.

The problem here, as usual, is the lack of clarity, which hardly helps business owners plan for the future. Bar and club owners are doubtlessly waiting for the shut-down to end on 1 December so that they can resume their business. This comes at a time when Christmas is around the corner, a month where business would usually be booming.

While one should always leave it up to the health authorities to decide what the best course of action is, it is perhaps a bit hard to understand why bars have to remain closed when their shut-down does not seem to have had an effect on Covid-19 numbers. If the authorities believe that the numbers would actually be higher had bars remained open, then they should say so.

One of the aims of the government is to give a sense of direction to business owners. While the authorities have done a lot to help businesses over these past few months of the pandemic, that sense of clarity and direction has often been missing.

We are not saying that bars should be allowed to open again without any restrictions and that they should be packed to the seams with customers, but perhaps ways can be found to limit the amount of patrons allowed and to ensure social distancing measures,  similar to what happened with restaurants.

Business owners need to have at least a vague idea of what is to come in the next few weeks so that they can prepare for the best or the worst. Hopefully, they will be given some form of direction soon.

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