The Malta Independent 24 September 2020, Thursday

‘We need to reach compromise that does not break health sector or economy’ - Robert Abela

Karl Azzopardi Thursday, 6 August 2020, 17:33 Last update: about 3 months ago

“We need to reach a compromise that does not break the health sector nor the economic sector”, Prime Minister Robert Abela told social partners in an MCESD meeting on Thursday.

The meeting is to discuss the current situation pertaining to Covid-19 in the country and the way forward from here.

Addressing the social partners at the start of the meeting, Abela said that it is his wish to leave the room with an agreement on the way forward.


The meeting is on the eve of when industrial directives issued by the MUMN, which represents nurses, come into force, with directives by the Medical Association of Malta already in force.

Abela said that two principles have to be kept in mind; to protect the lives of the Maltese and to protect their livelihoods.

“Our priority remains health but we cannot have an economy which is lacking, and the same goes for the other way round”, he said.

He said that the current scenario is an exceptional one, and the worst thing to do would be not to listen.  He noted that the government has listened by closing down certain mass events.

This action however, led to the loss of €25 million from the Maltese economy which could have been invested in healthcare, Abela said.

“I appeal for us to not go to extremes, as they will do us no good”, the Prime Minister said.

“We have to reach a compromise that does not break down the health sector or the economic sector”, he added.

Abela reminded that it was the agreement reached within the MCESD back in March which is what saved a lot of jobs, and augured that such an agreement can be reached once again.

Malta is currently in the throes of a renewed cycle of cases of the virus, with 267 active cases so far.  Over 100 of those are migrants who have had no bearing on local transmission as they were isolated immediately upon arrival, but a significant remainder are related to three clusters which came out from a weekend-long party, a village feast, and Paceville.

As a result of the spike, Malta has been moved off other country's green-lists, with Latvia, Estonia, and Ireland all making a 14-day quarantine period mandatory upon arrival in the country from Malta, and Lithuania banning Maltese residents altogetherMalta is also at risk of being removed from the UK's safe travel list.

The spike has given rise to renewed concerns over the virus - the MUMN and MAM have been at the forefront of these concerns with a call for the outright banning of mass events - a step beyond new restrictions which were announced by the Health Ministry last week. 

95% of the MAM's members as of Thursday have already started following industrial directives, while MUMN members will follow their own set of directives from tomorrow if the impasse is not breached.

Before entering the meeting, MUMN President Paul Pace reiterated the call for the immediate stopping of mass events, but also warned that more measures may now be needed in order to curb the case numbers.

The MUMN, along with the MAM, have criticised the government for refusing to issue an outright ban on mass events and will proceed with industrial action as from tomorrow if this is not done.  The MAM already started industrial action today.

Reacting to a question wherein he was asked about criticism that their industrial action was politically motivated, Pace said that this is a medical issue and not a political one. He noted that if numbers remain high then automatically a lockdown will follow.

He said that the country has already had a full lockdown because the people themselves made it such.

“Saying that we are only scaremongering shows the stupidity in a certain sector of the Maltese public”, Pace said before noting that there are warnings from the WHO which should be heeded.

“We are paying a high price because it was made to seem like the war was over”, he said.

Asked by this newsroom whether he thinks that the airport should close in order to curb the spread of the virus, Pace said that Malta should have a similar system to other countries which does not allow people to travel in from countries deemed to be of a high-risk.

Malta itself has been deemed to be high-risk after the renewed spread of the virus, having been excluded from the safe-travel lists of the Baltic countries and Ireland, with the risk that it is excluded from that of the UK within the coming hours.

In brief comments before entering the meeting meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne was asked about what he expects to come out of today’s discussions.

“We will talk with our social and industrial partners. We will explain our situation, listen to suggestions and comments and plan a way forward."

Asked about the MUMN’s directives set to come into place on Friday, Fearne said: “we spoke many times with the MUMN and we will continue to discuss. We have meetings scheduled in the coming days.”

Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) President Tony Zahra meanwhile said that if the country hadn’t opened the airport, then the half the country would be ‘waiting, and waiting and waiting.’

He was asked whether, given that he was at the forefront of calls to open up the country and return it to normality and then said that the maybe the decision was hurried, he was asked whether this was irresponsible on his part.

“I never said that this was a hurried decision. What I said was that it could be the case that we did mass events too fast. If we hadn’t opened the airport today we would not be here, half the country would be waiting and waiting and waiting.”

Asked whether he will be agreeing with banning mass events for the time being, he said “I will agree with what is best for the country. The country is passing through a huge crisis, as is the world, and we need to see the best way to get out of it.”

Asked what he will propose in the meeting, he said he will listen to what the doctors have to say and then see what is best for the country.

Chamber of Commerce President David Xuereb meanwhile said that what is important is that there is a strong health system, the vulnerable are taken care of and that the economy continues.

“It is not that the numbers are insignificant, they are important, but what is most important is that we have a strong health system, the vulnerable in society are being taken care of and that our economy continues, despite whether we have a second, third or fourth wave until the vaccine is introduced.”

When asked what the meeting will be about, Xuereb said that the meeting will be with the Prime Minister Robert Abela and Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne regarding further developments and to ensure that the level of health and economy are on the same level. 

He said that the meeting will look into each initiative which is to ensure that the economy continues, people are healthy, the airport remains open and schools open in September.

“If for example we do not open schools this September, we will have an issue where there will be large number of employees ad parents who for another year will have conflict between work and their life at home.”

He said that regarding the second wave, many people are being sensationalist on the second wave. “We have to have this second wave, it was unrealistic to have zero cases, as at some point or another cases were to increase as the virus is still with us.”

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