Vibrating floors, rattling windows, shaking beds, relentless dust and unwanted rodents – this is what many living next door to construction works are facing as they are forced to stay home due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“We’re living in a very stressful situation. Sometimes I can’t even hear myself talk with the sound of the jackhammer next door, let alone hold a work conference call. Before [COVID-19] we could at least get out of the house to avoid this, but now we can’t as my husband is over 65,” says Sue Lanzon from Swieqi.

Construction is going on next door, behind her house and down the road.

“My son and I are working from home. When it started two weeks ago, we were going insane,” she says.

Sue spoke to one of the contractors and they reached a compromise: the jackhammer starts at 7am but stops at noon.

This is better, but still difficult, she says.

“I understand that construction is an important part of the economy. But just as other industries have been put on hold, why not this one also? Construction, at least parts of it like excavation, should stop if it’s going to continue disrupting lives more than they already are because of this situation,” she says.

They are hardly alone in their stress. According to the Richmond Foundation, neighbouring construction work is impacting the mental health of those people who have no choice but to stay home because of the pandemic.

This is a really sensitive time and we really need to respect each other

Last week, the St Julian’s, Sliema, San Ġwann, Swieqi and Gżira local councils called for restricted times for construction and excavation works while a group of environmental NGOs called for a suspension in residential areas. In return for restricting works in residential areas during the outbreak, the Malta Developers’ Association is calling for financial assistance for fines incurred over delays and salary compensation for idle workers, as well as lower interest rates on bank loans.

The prime minister is on record as saying that stopping construction would have disastrous economic repercussions for the country.

Traumatic

Meanwhile, a woman who lives in St Julian’s with her elderly parents – and who prefers not to be named – said they were living in stress and fear.

A few years ago, their St Julian’s home was seriously damaged due to construction next door and their house is still being rebuilt. They now live in another property in the area. 

“We wake up to the sound of drilling, our beds vibrating, the glass rattling. It’s very unsettling and it’s traumatic for us since it takes us back to what happened.”

Dust and rats displaced by excavation works are making their way into homes.

Krista Sullivan, from Sliema, is battling with noise and dust caused by road works in the narrow road where she lives. Some two weeks ago, workers were digging up the road with several machines at the same time.

Things got quieter when she complained but the dust is relentless and she now has a “terrible cough” induced by her allergies.

“My house is covered in dust all the time. And this is going into our lungs. I appreciate that these people need to work – but this is a really sensitive time and we really need to respect each other…

“I suffer from anxiety and usually try to resist taking anxiety pills. But lately I’m really struggling not to take them… there is already so much to be anxious about because of coronavirus. This is over and above everything,” she says.

Swieqi mayor Noel Muscat said he was receiving many complaints from people in despair. “People are being forced to stay inside not to get sick while at the same time they are being exposed to another sort of illness – the mental kind.”

St Julian’s mayor Albert Buttigieg and Sliema mayor Anthony Chircop agreed, saying people were also worried about their safety since the fatal collapse of a Ħamrun home last month.

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