‘People want to party’: Venue owners and DJs say government must step up in lifting restrictions

Malta must take advantage of its high vaccination rate to reopen the clubbing scene as a flagging industry cries out for patrons to be allowed to return to party, club impresarios and DJs say

Mass events are unlikely, but some industry players remain optimistic
Mass events are unlikely, but some industry players remain optimistic

Malta is ripe for partying after 18 months of withdrawal. The announcement by deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne that a number of social and cultural events will be able to take place across Malta and Gozo from July 5, albeit open only to fully-vaccinated persons, was broadly welcomed. Yet some problems remain, however.

Bars and clubs have been shut since the end of last October, when the government introduced new restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19.

It was initially planned that bars and other entertainment venues would be able to reopen at the beginning of December, but Prime Minister Robert Abela had announced the closure would be extended to the end of the year.

Events will be capped at a 100 people, increasing to 150 on July 15, and eventually to 200 persons by August 2. Not only this, but attendees must remain seated at the venues –the antithesis of the concept of partying and mingling.

The Malta Entertainment Industry and Arts Association was not enamoured with the plan, which was laid out by health authorities on Friday, writing that the measures showed "an unfortunate disregard towards the livelihood of professionals.”

“It is discriminatory for our industry when all other sectors are allowed to operate without such bold measures whilst tourists are at least given a choice to show a negative test in the absence of a certificate of vaccination,” it said.

Gianpula owner Matthew Degiorgio said that seated events will be “catastrophic” for venue owners. “People come with a certain mindset when they come to Gianpula, they do not want to stay seated and eat, they want to party and mingle.”

He said people wanted to attend controlled events, stating health authorities should look at illegal gatherings and raves being organised around Malta as an example of how current regulation isn’t working. “People will feel safer knowing the necessary controls have been carried out,” Degiorgio claimed.

This sentiment was also shared by UNO General Manager Russel Mercieca, who said that reopening must also be feasible for venues. “It doesn’t make sense to open for 100 people, we need to have at least 300 in attendance.” Mercieca explained that the maintenance of venues, especially open-air ones, comes at a cost of around €15,000 to open.

Underground music DJ and event organiser Carl Bee said artists must accept the reality they are faced with, and think positively about the situation. “Obviously we do not want a repeat of last year, when we booked a number of international artists, only for mass event to be closed down again.”

Carl Bee also said that people should be provided an option. “We have illegal raves happening on beaches and private residences,” he said. “Hosting controlled events will help to identify and limit the spread of the virus.”

Ziggy, also an event organiser and DJ, said that industry players should have been provided with guidelines as to how measures would be lifted. “I am not expecting to host a party for thousands, but at least give me some sort of instructions,” he said.

He added that preparations are already in place in case should authorities give a go-ahead. “We also have to see whether it will be worth it for venue owners to open up, should a go-ahead come. The more weeks and months pass by, the more we are losing from summer.”

Asked if they expect a change in clubbing patterns, the venue owners said people will want to party after a year and a half of pandemic-driven deprivation.

“People who wouldn’t normally party, will look to go out and enjoy themselves with their friends,” Degiorgio said. “Crowds will only bother people if entrance into venues is not against a vaccine certificate.”

But Mercieca is optimistic about the future of the Maltese party scene. “Last year we saw a lot of enthusiasm, people want to attend these events," he said, "and now that we know that we have the vaccine certificate, I believe turnout will be even higher.”