The uncertain situation engendered by a pandemic that shows no sign of abating could be managed better as far as bars are concerned, said three bar operators situated in Valletta and Floriana.
Following Minister for Health Chris Fearne’s comments on Wednesday, where he raised the possibility that the legal notice mandating the shutdown of all bars until 1st December could be extended beyond that date, WhosWho.mt contacted bar owners operating in and near the capital to see how they are managing the unclear situation.
“I'm not surprised in the least,” said Nathan Brimmer, owner and operator of The Pub on Archbishop Str.
“I had already warned my staff in fact when they shut us down back in October. It's frustrating, because the numbers clearly haven't dropped, so I don't see what impact shutting us had, if any.”
Mr Brimmer said that he feels conflicted due to his roles as business owner and individual.
“I'm torn, because as Nathan the business owner, I obviously can’t survive much longer this way. But as Nathan the ‘civilian’, if you will, I'm in favour of a nationwide shut down.”
But wouldn’t a nationwide shutdown be even worse?
“We did that in April and got the results. But we can't shut down a sector because we are being made to be scapegoats for no reason whatsoever. Nothing has changed since they shut us down.”
He referred to an image of the Malta national team football match doing the rounds on social media showing fans huddled together with no evidence of the appropriate social distancing measures.
“This was Malta vs Faroe Islands this week. Politicians present. No distancing whatsoever, yet I'm told I'm a danger.”
When asked how demoralising it must be, he said, “It’s infuriating more than demoralising. They came down very hard on us but let a lot of other things slide.”
“I think the government is afraid to make the tough decision to shut the lot down. Had they done it a month ago along with all the bars, they may have saved Christmas.”
Another bar owner, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the news of the possible extension is not surprising in light of the number of cases being reported, but it still puts him on edge.
“You don’t know where you stand,” he said, describing the situation as “total limbo”.
“I personally took it as a given that we would open on the 1st December since the date was already announced.”
Asked how the news affects his business, he said “it affects business a lot”.
“You can never plan long term. You just end up taking everything day by day, and while that has its advantages in personal life, when it comes to business, continued uncertainty makes everything a lot more difficult.”
He pointed to stock as a big problem, saying he is now seeing how to dispose of everything nearing expiry without simply throwing it away.
However, this creates further worry down the line, as he knows that when the bar does re-open he will need significant cash flow to buy new stock.
Marie Claire Dimech Debono, who operates the bar known as the Gażin Vilhena, situated on St Anne Str in Floriana, agrees, pointing out that large suppliers’ “no returns” policy was causing further problems.
“I understand that the situation is new and difficult to handle,” she said, “but if the authorities are more clear and stop giving out false hope at every step of this situation, people would be able to take decisions differently.”
She says stock might have been taken home sooner, and foreign employees might have decided to return to their home country to spend time with their families if the authorities hadn’t indicated that they would be able to re-open on the 1st December.
“At least, we would have known what the situation is. I believe that better communication in this situation would have been a lot better, as we would have known where we stand.”
Ms Dimech Debono makes it clear that she didn’t take the authorities word as set in stone.
“I wasn’t certain we would be opening,” she says. “That’s not because there was any indication prior to a couple days ago that there might be an extension of the shutdown or anything, but simply because that’s how the situation has been handled so far – always letting us know two days before they shut us down, or informing us three days before that we must open with a load of restrictions.”
“The fact that they open and shut us at the last minute shows that the authorities do not have a proper understanding of the work required to close a bar, or to open it.”
There is no sign of the authorities listening to these concerns about the timeliness of communication, with Minister Fearne’s comment on Wednesday indicating that any decision on the re-opening will be taken near the date: “There are still a few weeks to go. It's too early to say what will happen.”