20,000 Covid-19 spot checks carried out at bars and restaurants; 668 citations issued

Director of Environmental Health Clive Tonna

Updated on

• Inspections to continue every day over the festive period

“Around 20,000 Covid-19 inspections were carried out to date and 688 citations were given to the hospitality sector,” Director of Environmental Health Clive Tonna told the Malta

Business Weekly.

During the interview Tonna revealed the scale of the immense operation the Department of Environmental Health has implemented since February.

Tonna explained how the department redeployed staff members to form Covid-19 task forces, while the department still upheld its regular duties.  “We have six teams in Malta, and one in Gozo, consisting of environmental health officers who are inspecting premises daily, to check that they are adhering to the outlined legislation and standards implemented by the government.”

Three weeks ago Prime Minister Robert Abela said that bars and entertainment venues will remain closed for the “coming weeks” as a Covid-19 precaution. Abela said that after consultation with Health Minister Chris Fearne, the decision was taken for bars not to reopen, as was initially planned, at the beginning of December, meaning they will have to remain shut for a bit longer. The superintendent of public health, Charmaine Gauci, said the decision had been taken for clubs and bars to stay closed throughout December.

Tonna said that, “we moved very fast to restructure at the onset of the pandemic. I am very grateful for the team here and countless volunteers who work hard to ensure public safety. The officers work long hours, often into the early hours of the morning to check protocols are being followed at restaurants and bars. At times police presence has been required to support them and maintain their safety when issuing fines.”

When asked which area bars and restaurants area are falling on the most, Tonna explained: “The most consistent violation we are finding across Malta and Gozo, is the proximity of tables. Many establishments are not following the recommended safe distancing”.

He added that, “this may come as no surprise, as some owners may try and squeeze in more covers to increase their revenue. Yet, the area where the department receives the most complaints from the public is not table proximity, but any crowds of people gathered, particularly when standing. Tonna continued, “a common theme within our complaints is the public is understandably concerned about seeing any large groups of people gathering and busy places”.

Aside from creating and adapting to ongoing changes in legislation, the department joined forces with the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA)and the Police force to enforce standards. “To date, 20,000 spot checks have been carried out at bars and restaurants. We have issued 668 citations in Malta and 52 in Gozo. Citations include both fines and court orders, with the largest fines being up to 3,000 Euros.” Mr Tonna added that last week court heard the first Covid-19 violation order

 He said that one positive aspect from this pandemic is the collaborative working between entities to ensure and enforce safety. The department covers all areas of environmental health, from Covid-19 burial regulations to the implementation of port and airport testing as well as checking rules are being followed on public transport. For now, the Covid-19 situation is continuously being monitored and assessed across all areas. Tonna would like to thank the task force and the many volunteers who support the department in ensuring public safety.

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