The drastic spike in reported COVID-19 cases was due to the inclusion of rescued migrants who tested positive for the virus, Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Monday. 

He was speaking during an interview broadcast on Labour Party media on Monday evening.

Asked to comment on whether there was a relationship between the spike in positive cases and a number of large-scale parties and gatherings, Abela said he disagreed with attributing the surge in new cases to mass events, as just under half of the numbers were rescued migrants who were being kept in isolation and did not mix within the community. 

Malta currently has 199 active COVID-19 cases, 88 of whom are boat migrants who were rescued on two separate occasions. 

However, a spike in cases had already been registered prior to that, when a person who tested positive for the virus on July 23, attended an all-weekend pool party. 

18 cases have since been attributed directly to the party. 

A cluster of 19 cases has since also emerged directly related to a positive case who attended the Santa Venera fest festivities, while in recent days 7 new cases were reported as being part of a Paceville cluster. 

On Saturday, health authorities reported that of 21 new cases, 18 were relatives of people who had already tested positive for the virus. 

The Prime Minister also said that his stance on migrant rescues was firm and that authorities would not intervene unless the situation became one of “life or death”. 

“I am sensitive to people’s concerns and I share them myself, but we have to keep in mind that this is a complex problem for which we will never find a whole solution,” Abela said. 

“I urge people to compare statistics, for this time last year, the number is already substantially less. Meanwhile, Lampedusa is in a crisis, while thousands of boats continue to leave Libyan shores every day. This isn’t a coincidence, we anticipated a problem and worked to find a solution.

“It’s also pertinent to mention that we are bound by certain international conventions and to break them would mean having the prime minister or the brigadier facing criminal charges and this is neither feasible nor stable to lead a country,” he continued. 

“I want to make it clear that my stance is firm. When we are faced with a decision that might mean seeing men, women and children drown, or have the deaths of innocents on our conscience, we will always choose life.” 

The prime minister said European solidarity was limited when it came to migration and dispelled rumours that Malta had secured European funding against a secret deal to admit more migrants into the country. 

“European solidarity related to migration is laughable. No one comes out to rescue except the Italians, whose problems are bigger than ours,” Abela said. 

“People talk a big game about saving lives but we receive no help in practice. We value lives, but we are going to insist on solidarity, with more work on relocations and having less boats in distress in Maltese waters.” 

On the cancellation of mass events, the Prime Minister said the government has always acted with prudence and on the advice of the health authorities, but insisted that people must consider the issue from a more holistic point of view. 

“We want to strike a balance between safeguarding lives and safeguarding people’s livelihoods. We have always put people’s health first but we have to consider our responsibility to make good economic decisions,” Abela said. 

“That being said, while unemployment in other countries is shooting up, we have not only managed to save people’s jobs but reduce unemployment rates.” 

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