Prime Minister Robert Abela rolled out a list of facts to play down COVID-19 “panic” over a recent spike, defiantly insisting that Malta has the lowest number of total cases in the EU despite the country currently having one of the highest rates per 100,000 people.
When Malta’s cases stood at 440 (it is now 557), the country had the fourth-highest rate for every 100,000. Only Luxembourg, Spain and Belgium have a higher rate of patients.
Speaking in an interview with journalists on ONE TV, Abela claimed that criticism was simply misinformation geared at causing a “panic” for “political or strategic gain”.
Another fact, Abela proudly announced, was that migrants who were brought in with COVID-19 a few weeks ago would no longer be included in the totals of the country, following a decision from the ECDC.
Abela, fresh from his trip to Sicily, also referenced Malta’s rate of testing. Moving away from totals, Abela said that Malta has one of the highest testing rates in the EU, and was finding more cases because of it.
“The absolute majority of cases are showing slight symptoms,” he said.
Abela had some stinging criticism for the way the pandemic was handled in July.
“Why did we reduce tests on 1st July? Why did we have a 10-day delay between taking swabs and getting results? I’m still awaiting a response to these questions. I now intervened to increase the number of tests.”
“Why weren’t doctors paid since March when my direction was that I’m giving them an open cheque? I have intervened there. I have also made sure that the issue of PPEs will be immediately resolved”
Most of the criticism directed at Abela is the decision to reopen the country to tourism and mass events. However, he insisted that the economy would have suffered because of it.
“We always put public health first. We were not perfect, but like the rest of the world, we were dealing with an unprecedented situation,” Abela explained.
“We only had nine deaths. Ask Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci how that compares to rate of deaths for influenza next time you’re with her,” he continued.
Abela did concede that people were failing to follow social distancing measures and lacked self-discipline, and legislative action would have to intervene if people do not fall in line.
Ever since Malta reintroduced ports to commercial travel on 15th July, the number of active cases in the country has spiked from single-digits to 557. Yesterday, 72 new cases were announced, the largest single-day figure since the pandemic hit the island.
Abela said that concerns over clusters at the Hotel Takeover party and Santa Venera feast were misguided, insisting that the number of cases from the events were minimal.
He will meet with the Superintendent later today to discuss potential measures.
“We need to reduce transmissions without going to extremes, I don’t want to adopt the New Zealand strategy.”
“You traumatise people when you’re too aggressive, the easiest thing would be to impose tough restrictions and have people say how strong I am. We need direct, clinical measures without going overboard,” he said.
What do you think of Abela’s statement?