Opinion: Bars have been made scapegoats

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Nathan Brimmer is an actor, father and landlord of The Pub, Valletta

As the owner of a small catering establishment, this year has been tougher than most for all the obvious reasons.

The Pub, a business I have had for just over six years now, was forced to shut down for the better part of half the year and is still under strict orders to do so.

Now I’ve said this time and again, I find myself in a very odd position because I feel the entire situation is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I am in favour of a country-wide lockdown as we had experienced last March. We are in the middle of a global pandemic and it is the most successful way of ensuring safety as was proven by the figures come mid-June.

On the other hand, shutting my business down puts me and my staff at risk. Yes, the government funding helps, but in the world we live in, it’s barely enough to make rent. My staff in particular do a very good job of earning tips, sometimes enough to cover most of their expenses and make a fairly decent living.

Upon re-opening on 17 June, we made sure The Pub was up to code and a safe environment for all our staff and patrons. We insisted on maintaining social distancing, disinfecting chairs and tables, waiter service, so on and so forth. The whole nine yards. We never had a single case traced to us and none of my staff have ever contracted Covid.

To the MTA’s credit, their officers visited my establishment three to four days a week, sometimes multiple times in the same shift to make sure we were up to scratch. If something minor was out of place they would give me 24 hours to amend it. Ultimately, we were given the thumbs up every time.

Which is why it hurt when bars were targeted and forced to close their doors again in October. I understand, drunk people are more likely to disregard the rules and cause the spread. But why just us? Closing bars doesn’t mean people are going to stop congregating and drinking. That’s like saying closing restaurants will make everybody starve to death.

Since the closure, Malta has broken the record of single day cases three times so far. The figures are rapidly on the rise and showing no signs of letting up. Photos of St George’s Bay crammed with people post curfew, drunken brawls in Valletta and Paceville on New Year’s Eve, a tombla event organised by a local council for 70 elderly people, more than half of which have since contracted the virus are just a few of the occurrences. And still government insists on emphasising that bars and pubs should remain shut as though we are the cause of all this and the highest risk.

Whenever I bring this up, I become vilified by people who think I am an evil capitalist. Let me make one thing clear. This is a small business. I’m never going to buy a yacht. I hope to be able to pay my mortgage and send my children to a good school, maybe go on holiday once a year and treat myself to the occasional steak. A lot of people have already lost their livelihood over this and many more stand to lose the same.

Let us open again.

Let us monitor the well-being of our patrons and ensure that they have the safest environment to socialise and converse in. Reward those businesses that adhere to the regulations and severely punish those that do not. We are no different than the restaurants that have been allowed to keep business going and alcohol flowing. Give us a chance to prove ourselves responsible and a fighting chance to survive.

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