The Malta Independent 9 August 2020, Sunday

Rift between OPM, health ministry deepens amid Covid-19 spike

Neil Camilleri Sunday, 2 August 2020, 09:00 Last update: about 7 days ago

Despite assurances that all is rosy at the highest levels of government when it comes to Covid-19, The Malta Independent on Sunday is reliably informed that the rift between Prime Minister Robert Abela and Deputy PM Chris Fearne and Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci has deepened over the past couple of weeks.

Well-placed sources said tensions have continued to flare between the two sides, particularly after the pool party and Santa Venera feast fiascos, which led to a new spike of infections in Malta.

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The sources said Fearne and Gauci had both told the Prime Minister that it is better so err on the side of caution and not allow mass events at this delicate juncture. The PM, however, preferred to allow mass activities as a means of aiding economic recovery and boosting public morale.

The government received heavy flak after the events, with many saying that parties and festa marches, coupled with the reopening of the airport to all destinations, will surely lead to a second wave of infections.

The government has since announced new restrictive measures with regard to mass events, limiting the number of attendees to one person per every square metres and barring people from gathering in groups larger than ten. It was also announced on Friday that four international music festivals that were set to attract tens of thousands of young tourists to Mata have been cancelled.

Commentators noted that Thursday's press conference was addressed only by Fearne and Gauci, adding that the PM “only addressed the nation when he has something good to announce.”

When asked whether there was disagreement with the PM, Fearne said on Thursday that there was no such thing. This was not the first time that the Deputy PM dismissed talk of a rift with the PM over the handling of the pandemic, but sources say the reality behind closed doors is much different.

This newspaper also understands that Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli has now joined the fray, on the PM’s side. The young minister is keen to see Malta register good tourism figures this year, despite the pandemic, but has been cautioned by Fearne and Gauci, who believe that the country has rushed in easing its prevention measures.

Fearne and Gauci, both coming from a medical background, have always urged caution, and their public statements have often contrasted with those made by PM Abela.

People have, in fact, often complained about mixed messages, with the PM speaking of optimism, a better day and a new normal and “il-mewg fil-bahar qieghed” (the waves are found in the sea), while Fearne and Gauci insist that people should remain vigilant and exercise caution.

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