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Govt announces midnight curfew for restaurants, but more terrace space too

ADDITIONAL SPACE: The Gibraltar Government is looking at ways to provide additional terrace space for cafes and restaurants in different areas of Gibraltar, including Irish Town [above]. Photo by Eyleen Gomez

Restaurants and bars will have to close their doors to customers by midnight until Covid-19 lockdown measures are completely lifted, the Gibraltar Government said yesterday, following concern about scores of people congregating at Chatham Counterguard last Friday.

The development was revealed by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo during yesterday’s 11am press briefing but immediately raised questions from the Gibraltar Catering Association.

The GCA expressed concern that tighter opening hours could impact negatively on businesses already struggling to attract customers back as the lockdown is lifted.

Additionally, some of the association’s members are worried that restaurants in certain locations are able to benefit from the current rules more than others.

“What we found is that in the area of Chatham, patrons were unable to contain themselves and the exuberance of being out after so long has got the better of many,” Mr Picardo said, asked about the scenes at Chatham Counterguard last Friday.

He said it is very difficult for restaurants to enforce social distancing rules on patrons who had finished their dinner and congregated outside.

“It is not like you can expect the police to be going around with a metre [ruler] to make sure that people are staying a metre away from each other,” he added.

“I don’t want that society for Gibraltar and I will not be the Chief Minister that requires people to be pulled one metre to two metres apart, that is not the world that I want to leave.”

Mr Picardo, who said he had been dining inside one of the Chatham Counterguard restaurants on Friday, commended the restaurants for being able to manage distances on their premises, adding that establishments have acted in keeping with the public health advice and the Environmental Agency permits.

“Unfortunately, many patrons did not cooperate after dinnertime and started to congregate in what we would usually have regarded as normal groups,” Mr Picardo added.

“Based on public health advice, therefore, we are going to modify the permits and, if necessary, the law in this respect to provide extra protection in this crucial phase.”

“Public safety continues to be important, and given the scenes that have been reported to us from over the weekend, as from today, all restaurants will now only be able to operate until midnight.”

“This curfew rule will apply to bars also once they open too.”

The measures will be in place until Gibraltar’s lockdown measures are fully lifted on August 1 and came as Gibraltar officially moved into phase four of the Unlock the Rock plan, with only two active cases of Covid-19 currently registered, one locally-resident, the other a cross-frontier worker.

Mr Picardo also dismissed any suggestion that the rules benefited some restaurants over others, adding that the government was looking to increase the terrace space available to establishments in different areas of the Rock.

Restaurants in Chatham Counterguard were able to able to increase their capacity with additional outside space, and Mr Picardo said this has worked well in the area and will work in other spaces like Casemates Square.

He said restaurants located in Irish Town, and other areas beyond the centre of town, might be able to benefit from these additional areas, which - in public spaces at least - will be free of charge while the Covid-19 restrictions are in place.
Granting additional space, he said, should enable restaurants to increase their capacity while ensuring social distancing in line with public health requirements.

GIBRALTAR CATERING ASSOCIATION

But scenes from Friday night drew flak from the Gibraltar Catering Association, which circulated a document which was leaked to GBC.

The Gibraltar Catering Association’s members were set to try and push the Government into allowing them to open to full capacity with immediate effect.

Some of the members said it should be up to the customers to take responsibility for their own safety in these measures.

GCA President, Gino Jimenez, said the association’s members felt like there was no level playing field in the restaurant industry at the moment.

But Mr Jimenez told the Chronicle the GCA has consistently advised its members to abide by the measures attached to their respective permits, highlighting the importance of abiding by public health rules.

Commenting on the midnight curfew announced by the Chief Minister, Mr Jimenez said: “This came as a surprise to us and it could have been better thought out.”

“The reduced capacity has already had an impact on trade and shorter hours might affect businesses further.”

“What we fear is that customers will cross the border in order to visit establishments that remain open until a much later time or that people instead congregate in an unregulated manner.”

Mr Jimenez said the GCA is looking forward to meeting with the Chief Minister to discuss the short, medium and long-term concerns for Gibraltar’s restaurant industry.

Meanwhile a spokesman for restaurants located at Chatham Counterguard told the Chronicle he would not make any further comment on this issue.