It’s been just over a week since Malta made mask-wearing mandatory practically everywhere and there have been complaints aplenty of overzealous wardens “hunting” maskless people down.
Enforcement is clearly working – 1,300 fines have been issued in the span of a week – and Svetlick Flores, CEO of the local enforcement agency LESA, urged people to realise that wardens are only doing their duty.
“Unfortunately, we issued 1,300 fines last week. It’s a lot, but it means we have more work to do collectively,” he said in an interview with Lovin Malta. “We don’t want to issue fines because we’re not here to issue fines but to enforce the legal notices that are periodically issued.”
“It means we have more work to do collectively. We would like to reach a situation where no fines are issued because we’re ultimately not here to fine people but to enforce the legal notices that are periodically issued.”
“There isn’t a straight line for everyone… for example, should a person be fined if his mask slips while he’s speaking? No, you bring it to his attention. Our principle is that that we must educate and, where we cannot educate, we must enforce.”
He said LESA’s doors are always open to people who feel aggrieved at their fines and who have suggestions about how to improve the enforcement system.
“File a complaint and let’s discuss it and see whether the circumstance [in which a fine was given] was fair or not. Without mentioning specifics, we do hear a lot of cases and we must assess them on a case-by-case basis.”
‘High intensity physical activity’ is listed as an exception in the mask laws, and while the health authorities have insisted this only refers to jogging and cycling, Flores said such enforcement cannot be clear-cut.
“For example, is someone who has just stopped jogging but is still breathing intensely doing something wrong? There are different circumstances.”
“Activities that require more inhalation or strain are exempt by law, but besides that I think we all know what the mask obligations are and that you must wear a mask as soon as you leave your front door.”
And what about children? The law obliges everyone older than three years old to wear a mask outside and there have already been some reports of children getting fined for playing in playgrounds without their masks on.
However, Flores said LESA hasn’t encountered many of these situations, attributing it to a high level of cooperation among children.
“Wearing a mask has become part of their norm; maybe they’re more conscious or their memory registers it more. The pandemic doesn’t care how old you are, and we must educate people… and then take measures if education doesn’t work.”
He urged people to cooperate with the law, saying that while masks may be uncomfortable, they’re useful if we want to protect each other.
“Everyone’s facing the same situation; let’s be part of the same team if we want to progress and start returning to a more normal life as soon as possible.”