On Monday evening, Prime Minister Robert Abela attempted to deflect blame for the spike in COVID-19 cases onto the number of boat migrants who have tested positive. The resurgence, he maintained, should not be attributed to mass events.

It is a fact that just under half of Malta’s now over 200 active cases are rescued migrants, who are isolated from the local community. It is also a fact, though, that nearly a third of the new cases have been attributed directly or indirectly to mass events, mainly a weekend pool party and a festa celebration. No isolation here.

The doctors’ union, which has been at the forefront of pressuring the government to ban mass events, was quick to point to a clear spike in cases even if migrant data is excluded.

It is clear that in this instance, the prime minister has got wrong the balance he has rightly sought between economic and health priorities. But instead of being honest and admitting it to his interviewer on Labour TV, he took offence at critics for ‘playing politics’.

He also made a pathetic attempt to draw sympathy for the “difficult” decisions he is faced with in the migrant situation: to save lives and conform with international law.

It was Abela who ran for prime minister and making difficult decisions is part of his job description.

It is incredible that he presents those decisions as posing some sort of moral dilemma when saving lives and respecting international law should be automatic choices.

Malta handled the pandemic right, taking measures that kept both COVID-19 and unemployment relatively low.

Things changed when the government ignored medical advice and gave the go-ahead for public manifestations and festivals.

The government took a calculated risk in reopening the airport, a necessary measure to save the economy’s motor. But in permitting mass events, it practically invited the virus to spread unchecked. Belatedly, measures have been taken to close down that channel of transmission.

It may be too late to prevent the spread of infection from posing a bigger public health threat, delaying economic recovery and possibly making the safe reopening of schools less likely in September.

Both the prime minister and the tourism minister seem to be in denial. This insults the front-line workers who jeopardise their own health to ensure that the health of ordinary people is safeguarded.

The government’s recklessness contrasts with the sound advice of Stella Kyriakides, the EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, who in an article in Times of Malta warned it is not the time to let our guard down in the fight against the pandemic.

The damage limitation being engaged in now may be a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Malta has already been deemed unsafe for travel by the Baltic states. Ireland is considering a similar move.

If this trend continues, all the efforts made by responsible citizens and front-line personnel over the past few months risk going to waste.

Malta had earned international praise for its initial management of the pandemic but it must now dedicate more resources and listen to the advice of its medical professionals and respond with measures which strike a balance between the economic interests but especially the health of the country.

Resorting to populist tactics by blaming vulnerable asylum seekers for the soaring COVID-19 numbers in a country where racism is rife, is cheap at best, dangerous and scheming at worse.

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