The Malta Independent 3 December 2021, Friday

Some animals more equal than others? Most MPs do away with face masks, despite Parliament guidelines

Albert Galea Sunday, 17 October 2021, 07:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

Monday’s budget presentation by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana saw a bumper attendance of MPs – but it ultimately wasn’t the government’s plan for the coming year which caught the eye for some, but more it was the fact that many of the MPs present had seemingly chosen to do away with the need for a face mask.

While it is mandatory for both children and teachers to wear face masks at all times at school, and for face masks to be worn in many other establishments such as restaurants (unless one is seated), concerts, and even sports stadiums – Malta’s MPs largely chose to flout Parliament’s own guidelines on the wearing of face masks.

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Answering questions on what the current Covid-19 protocol for Parliament’s operation is, the Speaker’s office confirmed that – amongst a raft of other measures in place to keep Parliament’s work going – every visitor to Parliament must wear a face mask, and that it is recommended that all MPs wear a face mask as well, unless they are addressing the House.

However, Monday’s Budget speech showed that very few MPs – on both sides – actually followed this recommendation.

Many MPs in fact could be spotted with their mask either lowered, or not wearing a mask at all.

Prime Minister Robert Abela and Opposition leader Bernard Grech, for starters, were both pictured not wearing a face mask.

In fact, only Health Minister Chris Fearne, Energy Minister Miriam Dalli, Education Minister Justyne Caruana, and Parliamentary Secretaries Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi and Deo Debattista were spotted by our photographer wearing face masks on the government’s side of the bench.

On the other side of the house, the Opposition seemed to stick more to the House recommendations – but besides Grech, some other MPs, such as Jason Azzopardi and Hermann Schiavone, could still be spotted not wearing a mask.

The wearing of face masks has been a restriction which is among the most criticised. 

For a number of months, a face mask had to be worn outdoors at all times.  This measure was relaxed after the vast majority (over 90%) of Malta’s adult population got vaccinated, but masks must still be worn while visiting pretty much anywhere else.

Students, for instance, irrelevant of their age must wear face masks at all times at school – as do their teachers and educators.

In truth, the recommendation for masks to be worn at all times in Parliament is still in place.

In a lengthy explanation about the Covid-19 protocols which Parliament had adopted so that sittings could continue to be held, the Speaker’s office said that a set of protocols had been agreed by the House Business Committee before Parliament returned from its summer recess.

These were adopted following guidance from the Superintendence of Public Health.

The guidelines were:

-          That people who appear sick or show symptoms of respiratory problems should not be allowed into the building,

-          That everybody’s temperature should be taken before entry and those with a temperature higher than 37.2 degrees Celsius would not be allowed in,

-          That hand sanitiser should be applied by all those who enter the building,

-          That parliament’s officials and security should ensure that social distancing takes places between visitors both as they are entering the building and in the public gallery or other zones of the building,

-          That the number of people allowed entry into certain zones of the building is not more than one person for every 4 square metres,

-          That any person entering the building should leave their personal and contact details at the reception,

-          And that any visitor has to wear a mask at all times that they are in the building.

Other restrictions were kept for special sittings, exhibitions and other activities within the Parliament’s building, while there were also restrictions placed on student and public group visits.

The Speaker said that the priority behind these measures was always to keep Parliament functioning, and in fact there has been no interruption to committee meetings or plenary sittings.

“With regard to masks, this remains recommended for anyone who comes into the building with the possibility that, in the case of MPs, it is removed when they are addressing a plenary or a committee,” the Speaker’s office said.

A bumper attendance of MPs is again expected on Monday and Tuesday as PN leader Bernard Grech and Prime Minister Robert Abela give their respective reactions to the Budget – it remains to be seen whether their MPs will opt to follow the mask guidelines like the rest of the public does, or not.

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