Calls for a ban on mass events are growing after the number of active COVID-19 cases shot up to 26.
Malta had previously whittled down active cases to nearly zero, even going several consecutive days without a single new case.
However, after one person tested positive for the virus on Thursday, another six were found on Friday and a further 14 people tested positive on Sunday. The Health Ministry said that nine of the latest cases were linked to the Hotel Takeover Party of the previous weekend, while three others were sporadic and two imported. That party is now linked to 15 cases in all.
None of the cases required hospitalisation and all were recovering in their own homes, the ministry said.
The Union of Professional Educators – Voice of the Workers, said on Sunday it had been reliably informed that English language students had tested positive, part of the same cluster. It did not give a figure.
The sudden spike has caused questions to be raised over the relaxation of preventive measures, with a growing call for a ban on mass events.
'We're practically asking for it'
Medical Association of Malta president Martin Balzan told Times of Malta that it was “playing with fire” to have a relaxed attitude and behaving as if the coronavirus had gone away.
“If we let our guard down we’re practically asking for it,” he said.
“Continuing to court tourists from all over Europe through large scale events is irresponsible. We have to strike a clear balance between protecting the economy and protecting ourselves from COVID-19.”
If we let our guard down we’re practically asking for it
Balzan also said that opening up the airport to ‘high risk’ countries, in which he included the likes of the UK, France and Spain, was a gamble, and that allowing travellers to enter the country freely without quarantine was risky.
By contrast, Prime Minister Robert Abela has downplayed the spike, saying he was determined to maintain normality and keep the country open for business.
“Those fomenting fears whenever there is a new case stand no chance of creating panic,” he said at the Labour party’s general conference in Cospicua, on Sunday.
End mass events - MEA
However, a major business lobby, the Malta Employers Association (MEA), called for an immediate end to mass events, saying that it was “ridiculous” to risk gains made in fighting the virus to parties and village band marches.
“There can be no winners if there is a surge in cases brought about by mass events,” the association said.
“Besides the obvious impact and dangers posed to public health, many employers and employees have made tremendous sacrifices in the battle against COVID – lost productivity, reduced pay packet, working flexibly, mandatory quarantine for vulnerable groups among others.
“Most companies have coped by digging into internal reserves to avoid declaring redundancies, but they will not hold out if there is a second wave, especially if it is of our own making by surrendering to pressures by some lobbies for their short-term interests.”
The MEA said if the situation regressed to that of April, many businesses would not survive a second wave and thousands stood to lose their jobs. A public petition also began circulating yesterday evening which called for an immediate halt to all mass gatherings.
Some 5,000 people had signed it at time of writing.
The health authorities yesterday renewed their appeal for anyone who had attended any event linked to the Hotel Take-over Party to immediately get tested, even if they had no symptoms.
They should continue to monitor themselves for two weeks.
The union also said it expected police to press charges against the aggressors.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing the rise of a ‘do-as-I-please’ culture, with no respect for laws or those who try to enforce them,” the union said.
Medical association warns of dispute, directives
The Medical Association of Malta joined in the call to government to stop all mass gathering.
"If sensible decisions to protect the health of the Maltese are not taken, MAM will have no alternative but to declare a dispute and order directives so as to protect the health of its members and their families from the dangers and consequences of illogical decisions, taken in name of profit and populism," it warned in a statement on Monday.
MAM said decisions have to be taken based on sound scientific evidence and not on populistic considerations. To date travel insurances are not covering any medical expenses arising from COVID-19, it added.
It also condemned "without reservation the bad example" given by the organisation of a concert by the office of the prime minister where "absolutely" no social distancing measures were taken as recommended by the office of the superintendent of public health.
"MAM also condemns the Tourism Ministry for lobbying abroad to attract mass parties for thousands of non-Maltese after these were denied permission abroad.
"To date none of the EU countries have authorised mass gatherings while many EU countries are now considering stricter controls on air travel, including pre and post travel screening and quarantine."
The idea of political leaders telling the Maltese that COVID-19 is over and that they can do whatever they like with impunity is not acceptable to the medical profession, MAM added.
"Organisers and politicians must realise that they become personally legally and financially liable should illness or death result from disease."
We cannot risk the public's health - Maltese Diabetes Association
The Maltese Diabetes Association is meanwhile calling on the public to be vigilant and extra careful and joined the call on the authorities to ban mass events.
“Why should the irresponsibility of a few be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of several 'vulnerable' people including those living with chronic conditions and the elderly?
"These people have followed instructions by the health authorities very rigorously for several weeks and made a lot of personal sacrifices - a lot has been done by the health authorities to fight Covid-19 however at this stage we cannot place the public’s health at risk," the association said on Monday.