Health Minister Chris Fearne has insisted that no COVID-19 rules were broken when he visited a leading furniture showroom while Malta was under quasi-lockdown last year.
“Construction and furniture manufacturing was never stopped; it was allowed and it continued going on, so yes I had an appointment with a furniture manufacturer and I kept that manufacturer,” Fearne told Lovin Malta in an interview, when asked about claims made by a former Construct Furniture salesperson.
The full interview will be published later on today.
“I didn’t break any rules. The company itself didn’t break any rules,” Fearne said. “I can understand that there are stories but… I can tell you these are the facts and I’m telling you the facts.”
Although Construct Furniture does indeed manufacture furniture, it also operates a furniture showroom. Furniture shops were ordered to close their doors to clients on 23rd March 2020 along with other “non-essential” retail outlets and services; however the legal notice didn’t specifically include furniture showrooms or specify whether they counted as furniture shops.
Furniture retail employees were also originally eligible for the maximum COVID-19 wage supplement.
They were only allowed to reopen on 4th May but with fresh measures, such as obligatory mask-wearing indoors, the provision of hand sanitisers, and client limitations to ensure social distancing.
On 1st May, the same day Fearne and Prime Minister Robert Abela announced the easing of measures, Construct Furniture employee Daniel Mercieca took to Facebook to rant about the Health Minister’s behaviour behind the scenes.
“Wahahahahah… meet Malta’s Health Minister! He’s been telling us to stay home and that all showrooms should be closed, yet he was at the showroom I work at ordering a kitchen for his second home three weeks ago,” Mercieca said.
“And I thought he was the best of the lost! Meanwhile, despite the boasted surplus, the government doesn’t want to compensate our showroom for being closed.”
Mercieca told Lovin Malta that although the showroom’s shutters were closed, he and other staff went to work as usual, guiding clients through the backdoor. He said that their first client was judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera, while Fearne visited in mid-April, accompanied by his then boss’ brother.
He hid his original Facebook post after his employer gave him a serious written warning that he was in breach of client confidentiality, but he has since left the company and re-published the post.
Lovin Malta has reached out to Construct Furniture for comment.
What do you make of Chris Fearne’s explanation?