The Malta Independent 25 September 2022, Sunday
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Challenges and opportunities faced by Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs during pandemic

Evarist Bartolo Sunday, 7 March 2021, 09:21 Last update: about 3 years ago

In February 2020, a month before Covid-19 was classified as a global pandemic, WHO Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, rightly stated that “This virus does not respect borders”. This global pandemic has required a global response, and Malta, together with the European Union, its Member States and the international community, has been playing its role and doing everything possible to tackle the crisis and its consequences.

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The Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs has played a critical role during this period particularly regarding the assistance and protection of Maltese citizens and residents stranded abroad, ensuring adequate PPE for the protection of our healthcare workers, the timely acquisition of a vaccine, as well as ensuring coordination with our international partners for future economic recovery.

On 10 March 2020, the Ministry activated its Situation Centre with officials from the Ministry operating from the Centre’s permanent location in Valletta, and from home in order to guarantee round the clock service. Throughout its main operation, from March to June 2020, the SitCen processed 41,134 emails and more than 12,890 calls. During the same period, the SitCen coordinated 10 ferry trips and 57 repatriation flights to Malta with 828 Maltese citizens and 774 foreign residents benefitting from such flights and ferries to Malta.

The Ministry also did its part to assist EU and third-country nationals who had been in Malta, be it for work or tourism, to return to their home countries. During the period of operation, the Ministry assisted 3,495 expatriates stranded in Malta to be repatriated to their country of origin in coordination with Embassies of their countries accredited to Malta.

Despite air and seaports having reopened as of July 2020, albeit with restrictions, the SitCen helpline remains operational providing information regarding travel to Malta or referring queries to pertinent authorities. Updated information is also added to the Ministry’s website and mobile travel app.

However, it was also essential to ensure that our healthcare workers were able to provide effective and efficient care. Working closely with strategic partners from the public and private sector, the Ministry was also proactive in procuring protective equipment for our healthcare workers and frontliners.

Like many countries, Malta was adversely affected by the export bans imposed which further impeded the rapid acquisition of PPE. To counter this, Malta joined, and actively promoted the EU’s joint procurement process and used diplomatic channels and network of Embassies around the world to secure the required supplies. Consequently, by 25 April 2020, Malta had obtained enough consignments to ensure that our frontliners had access to adequate protective equipment to care for coronavirus patients. 

As a result of the positive management of spread of the virus, and the surplus in PPE, the Ministry was also able to assist in donating supplies to a number of EU and third countries that were even more severely affected by the pandemic.  

In April 2020 Malta donated over 150,000 face visors to Croatia, Italy, France, Spain and Libya. This was increased further by July 2020 when Malta donated more than 50,000 visors, 750,000 disposable masks, and over 40,000 antibacterial protective suits to countries such as Italy, Spain, Croatia, France, San Marino, Libya, Palestine, Moldova, Algeria and Lebanon. On 9 December 2020 Malta also voluntarily contributed PPE amounting to €25,000 to the International Atomic Energy Agency, towards its work in fighting COVID-19.

Our latest challenge has been the timely acquisition of safe and efficient vaccines. Malta has actively participated throughout the negotiations in EU fora, both at the technical and the political level, to ensure the security of supply of vaccines.

In February 2020, even before the first positive case was detected in Malta, Maltese authorities were encouraging the European Commission to prepare all the groundwork for a joint procurement process for the purchase of a vaccine. This process has allowed Malta to gain equal access to vaccines and become the leading EU country in terms of inoculations.

Moving forward, however, we will be faced with a new challenge – Addressing the social and economic impact of the crisis.

Malta will continue to do its part and actively participate and negotiate in the international arena in order to be able to ensure that our economy remains strong and our people’s livelihoods are safeguarded.

 
Dr Evarist Bartolo is Minitster for Foreign and European Affairs

 

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